Mancini Project, a Musical Rich in Movie Melody, Premieres in Nyack, Fall 2003

News   Mancini Project, a Musical Rich in Movie Melody, Premieres in Nyack, Fall 2003
The Mancini Project, a new musical that fuses the work of composer Henry Mancini with the archetypal characters that inhabited the movies he scored, will get its world premiere at the Helen Hayes Theatre Company in Nyack, NY, in October 2003.

"Mancini is the message," director-choreographer Otis Sallid told Playbill On-Line, explaining that the show he created is not a biography of Mancini or about plots from such films as "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "The Pink Panther," "Hatari" or "Victor/Victoria."

With the idea that the work is still very much an exploration, Sallid said he's created three principal players — Him, Her and a fate character named Cyrk. The company is expected to number 16. About 18 performances are expected in Nyack, north of New York City. The schedule has not yet been announced, but HHTCO executive director Mary S. Oleniczak confirmed the engagement to Playbill On Line.

"It's a romance," said Sallid, one of the creators of Smokey Joe's Cafe. Over the next seven months, he and produced Richard G. Weinberg are assembling their creative team, including an arranger-orchestrator who will be key in relating the distinctive, richly melodic Mancini sound. The fall run is the show's first view by the general public, and Sallid said it will be further assessed for modifications, cuts and additions. He's hoping investors will come to Nyack to experience the show and help take it to the next step.

A fall 2002 workshop of The Mancini Project was presented, and Sallid said he learned he needed "more story, more throughline" but stopped short calling it a true book musical. "There is no spoken dialogue," he explained, but added that everyone in the company will have to sing, dance, act, play an instrument — "and look beautiful."

He admitted that conceptual revues like The Mancini Project are much harder to create than book musicals, because plot is so specific in book shows, which are usually based on source material like plays or novels. "With a traditional book musical, you know what everybody has to do," he said. Here, the world is being built from the ground up.

Legendary costume designer is attached as the show's costume advisor. He said the show is set in "fate's toybox."

The fall 2002 presentations of the piece were held Sept. 19 20 in Manhattan. Musical direction was by Domenic Cicchetti, who remains attached to the project.

The experience offered 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, Sallid told Playbill On-Line. 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 said.

As of last fall, the developing piece ran one hour and 15 minutes and used songs and themes by Mancini, telling not so much a fleshed-out 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," "Whistling in the Dark," "Charade," "Le Jazz Hot," "Paris Makes Me Horny," among others, and themes including "Peter Gunn," "The Pink Panther" and "Baby Elephant Walk."

The costuming is Givenchy-inspired, with elegance as the rule, Sallid said. Tuxes are part of the look for the men. Sallid said he wants it drenched in romance.

Although there are no "characters," per se, there is an Audrey Hepburn type, a George Peppard type, among others. Hepburn and Peppard starred in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." 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 2002 workshop cast included 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. No casting has been announced for fall 2003.

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