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Jackson Loses its Real Life Man of La Mancha

Tony award-winning Broadway composer and developer Mitch Leigh died of pneumonia and complications from a stroke in New York Sunday, according to his assistant in an Associated Press report Monday.

Mitch Leigh
Mitch Leigh (Jackson Twenty-One)

Leigh was world famous for writing the score to the hit musical version of Spanish author’s Miguel De Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” However, in Ocean County, the idealist was also known for his interest in community development.

Over two decades ago Leigh purchased 900 acres in Jackson Township along the Route 195 corridor in hopes of constructing what he called America’s only arts-sports-residential community that he named  Jackson Twenty-One  where only nice people need apply, according to his TV commercials.

Jackson Township Mayor Mike Reina said he’s saddened by Leigh’s death. He descibes the 86-year-old composer as a “complete gentleman”. “He was a philanthropist”, according to Reina.”He was very generous, to not only the arts but he was generous to the community and those who needed him,” Reina said. “For years he was known as Mr. Anonymous where he would make donations to fundraisers.”

Reina also said that Leigh was close to realizing his dream because he was just months away from receiving approvals for the Jackson 21 development.

“It’s a mixed use community where there’s shops, artist villages, streets paved with cobblestones with no vehicles, you can walk through and shop and just go around to the out door amphitheater,” Reina said calling it a great mix for Jackson Township.

However, Reina laments that Leigh’s motives, even after his death, are being questioned, with some accusing Leigh’s company of planning to sell off the land to developers who will turn Jackson into Lakewood-west.

“We allowed the application to come in like we would any other and treated it without prejudice and it turned out to be something beautiful and once the welcome center is up and running, not only the naysayers but the people who couldn’t wait and still can’t wait for it to be built, can finally see what his intentions were,” Reina explained.

The Jackson 21 Welcome Center is still scheduled to open this Spring. Mayor Reina said he plans to help Leigh fulfill his dream of constructing the diverse, artistic, ‘green village’ where only ‘nice’ people live. Any other details will have to wait according to Reina who’s reserving additional comments about the project until he hears from member’s of the Leigh Realty Company that manages the project.

Born Irwin Michnick of Brooklyn, Leigh is survived by his wife Artist Abby Leigh and their two children, David and Rebecca. He also has a son Andy from a previous marriage. A memorial service was held for Leigh Monday afternoon in Manhattan. On Wednesday, Broadway theater marquees will dim in his honor for one minute at 7:45 p.m.

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