The songs and music of the late composer Henry Mancini will be heard in workshop readings of a new musical, The Mancini Project, directed and choreographed by Otis Sallid, one of the creators of Smokey Joe's Café, Sept. 19-20 in Manhattan.
The private presentations will be followed by a public benefit performance Sept. 23, with proceeds going to the Henry Mancini Institute.
The musical workshop has been in rehearsal in recent days and is helmed by Sallid, with musical direction by Domenic Cicchetti. Richard G. Weinberg is producer.
The experience offers 20 hit musical numbers, from films as diverse as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Charade" to "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "Victor/Victoria." Mancini, who was represented on Broadway by the stage version of the Blake Edwards film, "Victor/Victoria," died in 1994. His themes and songs are part of the American soundtrack and are heard in elevators, on ads, cartoons and radio. Two of his famous compositions are "The Baby Elephant Walk" and "The Pink Panther."
Director-choreographer Sallid met Mancini backstage at the Grammy Awards some 20 years ago, where they had a healthy debate about East Coast jazz vs. West Coast jazz. It wasn't until their conversation was over that Sallid realized he was speaking to Academy Award-winner Mancini. A friendship was forged and the choreographer asked Mancini for the use of his music to create a ballet called Henry Dances. Fast forward to 2002. "I thought his music would make a better Broadway show than a ballet and it would reach more people," Sallid told Playbill On-Line in between workshop rehearsals.
The piece now runs one hour and 15 minutes and uses songs and themes by Mancini, telling not so much a plot as a romantic throughline: "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy can never get girl back, and then they get together."
Sallid said the show is told from the woman's point of view, and the experience is meant to be lush, romantic, international, fashionable and filled with the mystery that is human love.
"We're not doing the movies, we're not doing his life story, I'm doing his music," Sallid explained, adding that the mechanics of the stagecraft will be evident to the audience, making the experience nakedly theatrical.
"I always thought about bringing the background forward," Sallid said. "Mr. Mancini was a background artist. I brought all the dancers, musicians and stagehands to the front of the theatre, so you see the guts and mechanics of it all."
Songs in the show include "Days of Wine and Roses," "Two for the Road," "Moon River," "Charade," "Le Jazz Hot," "Paris Makes Me Horny," among others, and themes including "The Pink Panther" and "Baby Elephant Walk."
The costuming, overseen by Theoni V. Aldredge, is Givenchy inspired, with elegance as the rule. Tuxes will be part of the look for men. Sallid wants it drenched in romance and said that if a man and a woman in the audience end up holding hands during the show, he's succeeded.
Although there are no "characters," per se, there is an Audrey Hepburn type, a George Peppard type and a Cary Grant type, among others. One of the director's goal was to put Mancini's classic 1950s-70s music into mouths of "young, hip people."
The look of the show will include some black and white film as background, "a little bit of French spectacle" and a feeling of the fashion world meeting the theatre world meeting the music video world, Sallid said.
Mancini's most well-known scores were written in the 1960s and '70s, though he continued to write into the 1990s.
The workshop cast includes Bryn Dowling, Ben Cameron, Dylis Croman, Nina Hennesey, Caitlin Carter, Sean Palmer, William Robert Gaynor, Matt Farnsworth, Bobby Daye, Renee Goldsberry, Rochelle Aytes, Noah Racey, Jennifer Del Rio and Brad Aspel.
Attendance to the workshop presentations Sept. 19-20 is by invitation only. Tickets to the gala benefit and post performance reception on Sept. 23 are $250 and tax deductible. For benefit tickets call (212) 730-9500.
According to a statement, "The Henry Mancini Institute was based on his cognizance of the need for training and experience in what it takes to be a professional musician today- awareness of the changing music industry and an uncompromising commitment to artistic excellence. The 4-week program insists that each of the players, regardless of their backgrounds, experience jazz, improvisation, contemporary, and film music in large and small ensembles. This educational program mentors the professional advancement of instrumentalists and composers. More than 80 musicians are selected each year to study and perform with some of today's finest musical masters during the program."
— By Kenneth Jones