If there were an award for Most Talented Singing Offspring of a Great American Composer, my personal nomination for the honor would be Monica Mancini. Several years ago, the lady's debut CD landed in my lap--and my initial fears that she might just be a minor talent trading on the good name of her father, the great Henry Mancini, soon evaporated upon listening to the disc. Simply titled Monica Mancini, it's a stunner that features several of her dad's most beautiful songs: e.g., "Two for the Road," "Moon River," "The Days of Wine and Roses," "Charade," and the beautiful "Crazy World" from Victor/Victoria. Now, Miss Mancini is about to bring her father's music to Feinstein's at the Regency, March 19-30, in a program titled Mancini at the Movies. I spoke with her last week about the show, which may very well turn out to be a highlight of the spring cabaret season in NYC.
THEATERMANIA: Will this engagement at Feinstein's be your New York cabaret debut?
MONICA MANCINI: No, I actually did a couple of weeks at the Algonquin about five years ago. But I was just a spring chicken back then. I've come a long way!
TM: Was your dad still alive when you did that show?
MM: No, he wasn't, and I hadn't even released my first CD at that point. Quite a bit has happened in the interim. I went into the Algonquin with an entire Mancini evening; I was planning on coming to Feinstein's with a whole different show, but Michael [Feinstein] asked me to do Mancini at the Movies because we're opening during Oscar week. I'm throwing in a few new things that will be on my new album, but it's basically Mancini stuff.
TM: I have to tell you, I play your first CD a lot. The only reason I haven't listened to it recently is that I just moved and it's still packed away in a box somewhere.
MM: You'll find it again. It'll resurface at just the right time.
TM: Aside from your singing, that album is so wonderfully well produced in terms of arrangement, sound quality, packaging, and so on.
MM: Well, it's so much easier if you start with great music, you know? I'm real proud of that record. I also have my second album, The Dreams of Johnny Mercer; that's been out for over a year. And, the minute I finish up at Feinstein's, we start working on the third one, which is all film music as well.
TM: It seems from your press materials that you mostly keep busy with symphony dates.
MM: Yes, that's kind of our bread and butter. We do the pop symphony circuit, which is great for me because my charts are so symphonic. They love it when our show comes in because all the people in the orchestra get to play; a lot of times, pop acts don't utilize the entire orchestra.
TM: You have some gorgeous arrangements. The opening of "Two for the Road" on your first album is just beautiful.
MM: Pat Williams did those arrangements. He was a colleague of my dad's; in fact, my dad was sort of mentor to him when Pat moved to L.A. from the East Coast. They were very, very close. I initially asked him to write one arrangement for that album but he asked if he could write the whole record, and I said, "Sure!" He really had this bond with my dad and his music and he really enjoyed sinking his teeth into that stuff.
TM: When and how did your career begin?
MM: My mom was a singer, my brother was a singer, and I have a twin sister who's a singer. When I was a teenager, my dad would take the Henry Mancini Chorus go on little tours in the summer to places like Lake Tahoe, and we were part of the chorus. Then he started hiring us to sing on his recordings; he made a lot of choral albums way back when. Then I started to kind of take after my mom, who was a very big studio singer in town. I wanted to do what she did because I thought it was really fun; so I was a studio singer until my dad passed away. That's when I was offered the opportunity to go out as a soloist with Bill Conti and do these symphony things. When my dad got sick and couldn't fulfill some of his dates conducting symphony concerts, Bill replaced him. He thought he would do a Mancini tribute as part of the program and he asked me to come on board. That was really my foray into that world. People just love the music and I love singing it.
TM: So, your dad never really knew you as a soloist.
MM: Not really. He hired me to do demos for Victor/Victoria and other films, and he would ask me to perform in a benefit with him now and then. I really had no reason to sing his music before he was gone, because he was out there doing it himself. But now, I feel like I've sort of been handed the torch.
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