November 26, 2018 | By Bruce R. Feldman
Moon River and the Music of Henry Mancini, The Soraya, Northridge, Oct. 13, 2018
In Brief: Affably hosted by his daughter and smartly accompanied by a sharp, swinging New West Symphony, the celebration of Henry Mancini at The Soraya was a pleasurable affair – a breezy and entertaining tribute to the composer’s greatest hits from the 1960s onward.
Henry Mancini had the knack of crafting catchy tunes that became as popular as the movies they were in. The witty, iconic theme for the Pink Panther series and the lively "Baby Elephant Walk" from Hatari were notable examples.
These and the familiar pop songs he produced for Days of Wine and Roses, Charade, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the wistful "Moon River") were all on the bill, along with symphonic or big-band versions of less well-known compositions for The Molly McGuires, The Great Race, Two for the Road, The Thorn Birds TV mini-series, and others.
The tunes Mancini composed often exceeded the popularity of the movies they were written for
Monica Mancini, a respected jazz performer in her own right, opened the evening with a lively, up-tempo "It Had Better Be Tonight," from the first Pink Panther movie. This set the tone for the light but highly agreeable program to follow.
The New West Symphony took over with a jazz-inflected, wonderfully atmospheric suite from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A jazz quartet led by Gregg Field supplemented the group. Field also served as the show’s music director.
Throughout the night, the combined assembly segued effortlessly from symphonic to pop to big-band styles, a testament to the superb musicianship of all of the instrumentalists, as well as to their skillful conductor, Chris Walden.
Monica Mancini served as host, offering personal anecdotes of growing up with her famous father. She also did most of the singing, aided by guest artist Joshua Henry on two numbers in the first act and two more after intermission.
Henry, who starred as Billy Bigelow in last season’s Broadway revival of Carousel, has a big, smooth, expressive baritone that was especially effective on his swinging take on "Charade," the highlight of the night for me.
Both singers performed a heartfelt "Moon River" together to conclude the proceedings. It wasn’t the best version of this relaxed classic I have heard, but, appropriately, it sent the audience out into the night with fond memories of the composer’s lasting contributions.