If you are of a certain age, and who among us is not of a certain age, the music of composer Henry Mancini could easily serve as the soundtrack of our lives. Since he first hit the Billboard charts in 1959 with the theme to TV’s Peter Gunn, winning two Emmys and the very first Grammy for Album of the Year, his themes and songs have been in our ears and in our hearts. He received 18 Academy Award nominations, winning four times. He received 72 Grammy Award nominations, winning 20 times. On Sunday August 6, Mancini Magic was the theme for the 79th Kritzerland cabaret performance at Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal in North Hollywood. As usual producer/host Bruce Kimmel presented an eclectic mix of well-known songs and some rarities. Daniel Bellusci, winner of 2017 LA’s Next Great Stage Star, did a winning job with the unfamiliar “Send a Little Love My Way” from Oklahoma Crude as well as a put-together of “Natalie” and “Tomorrow is My Friend” from Me, Natalie and Gailey, Gailey. There were very few in the audience, myself among them, that admitted to seeing these flop films. But Mancini’s scores and songs were never flops. Even though the film 10 was one of the top grossing films of 1979 and the song “It’s Easy to Say” was introduced by Julie Andrews and Dudley Moore, it never really became a hit. In his rendition, Robert Yacko proved the song was a true winner. Yacko also got to sing two certified hits in his put-together of the title songs “Dear Heart” and “Charade.” Amy Gillette proved her versatility and Mancini’s when she sang a put-together of “Whistling Away the Dark” and “Smile Away Each Rainy Day,” both from yet another big flop film, Darling Lili. She really brought out the truly haunting melancholy of the former. Gillette recently starred in the leading role in a stage production of the classic comedy Victor/Victoria and did both the ballad “Crazy World” and the uptempo “Le Jazz Hot” from the film. Mancini died before ever seeing the stage version but he did write a few new songs for it including the raunchy travelogue song “Paris Makes Me Horny” which Wendy Rosoff pulled off with flashy chorine aplomb. Adrienne Stiefel proved to be the standout in this latest Kritzerland cast. She did a beautiful job with the hopelessly romantic “Two For the Road” and really put the fun into the neglected “He Shouldn’ta Hadn’ta Oughtn’ta Swang on Me.” The latter song was introduced by the late, great Dorothy Provine (google her and look her up on YouTube) in The Great Race. Stiefel also did a truly lovely put together of Mancini’s pair of Oscar winning ballads “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses,” accompanied only by Grant Geissman’s masterful guitar playing. Geissman teamed up with pianist/musical director Richard Allen (who provided great accompaniment throughout) on two of Mancini’s best movie themes—“The Pink Panther” and “Baby Elephant Walk.” It was the highlight of an evening of Mancini Magic.
August 7, 2017: