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An Impossible Dream That Moves Us

by Danielle Thierry, Burlington Writers Workshop

See the Broadway National Tour of “Man of La Mancha” on the MainStage on Thursday, March 20. Get tickets.

Man of La Mancha tells the story of a man imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition who defends himself in a mock trial among his fellow prisoners to save his life’s work (the classic novel of the “mad knight” Don Quixote and his quest for peace, goodness, and love) from being destroyed only to end up being taken away and tried by the Inquisition anyway.

The musical has been criticized by some as overly sentimental or even an unhealthy celebration of seeing the world through “rose-colored glasses” at best, and a glorification of mental health issues at worst. But its sentimentality and its main protagonist’s will to believe in his valiant quest—“no matter how hopeless, no matter how far”—has just as often been held up as its greatest strength.

It’s not surprising that Man of La Mancha debuted in the 1960s—a time known as much for its idealism as for its great tumult and change. And the show’s main song, “Dream the Impossible Dream,” quickly became associated with struggles as diverse as the 1967 Boston Red Sox completely unexpected, come-from-behind pennant win and the long-shot 1968 presidential political campaign of Robert Kennedy. 1,2

Though we live in arguably more cynical times now, the notion that what matters is the good in people and the strength of the human spirit to honor that good even in the most horrendous of circumstances still speaks to us. Recent Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong’o, in speaking of the woman whose story she brought to life in her role as plantation slave Patsey in the film 12 Years a Slave, captured this so eloquently in her speech at Essence magazine’s 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood event.

“What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion. For yourself and for those around you,” she told the audience. “That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master. But it is also what has kept her story alive to this day.”

Perhaps this is why Man of La Mancha, winner of five Tony Awards, continues to sell out theaters nearly 50 years after its Broadway debut. Because the will to strive toward a higher purpose, to believe that we can overcome that which binds us—whether the bondage be literal or cultural, economic or personal—to become better people, see the good in others, and create a better world is key to our human survival.

It is also essential to the stories we create and share. It is the power of those characters that persist in their cause against all odds that we connect to and that inspires us to help recapture that will within ourselves. Sometimes the dream is realized. Other times it is not. But it is the ability to dream, the passion to believe, and the willingness to fight that we remember and that moves us. The greatest, and most universal, stories aren’t necessarily the ones in which the characters win—they are those in which their struggles are worth the fight.

Join the “mad knight” on his quest for the impossible dream.  Get your tickets for the March 20 performance of the Broadway National Tour of Man of La Mancha.

  1. “Impossible Dream” remembered on Opening Day. 04/09/2007. Accessed 3.5.2014.
  2. Schlesinger, Arthur M. (1978;1990). Robert Kennedy And His Times. Ballantyne Books.


“To dream … the impossible dream …
To fight … the unbeatable foe …
To bear … with unbearable sorrow …
To run … where the brave dare not go …
To right … the unrightable wrong …
To love … pure and chaste from afar …
To try … when your arms are too weary …
To reach … the unreachable star …

This is my quest, to follow that star …
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far …
To fight for the right, without question or pause …
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause …

And I know if I’ll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I’m laid to my rest …
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach … the unreachable star …”

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