Nearly $1 million was raised for the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts during a star-studded tribute to the music composer Henry Mancini Saturday night at the Wallis theater in Beverly Hills.
Approximately 450 attended the event, which featured many of Mancini’s movie and TV hits, from the Oscar-winning songs “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses” to his hit themes for “The Pink Panther” and “Peter Gunn.”
Two other film-scoring giants, Quincy Jones and John Williams, joined forces for a crowd-pleasing finale: the jazzy, Grammy-winning “Gunn” TV theme. Jones conducted the 55-member Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, and Williams (who performed on the original 1958 recording) played piano.
Williams told Variety that Mancini’s music was “part of the American musical fabric” and, during his early days as a pianist on many Mancini dates, “he always impressed me with his calm, self-confident assurance.”
Jones credited Mancini, along with director Sidney Lumet and actor Sidney Poitier, with “getting me through the door” and into the Hollywood music scene. He called Mancini “a game changer” as the first dance-band arranger to succeed in film scoring, leading the way for Jones and other jazz-oriented composers.
Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth wowed the crowd with her renditions of “Moon River” and “The Sweetheart Tree,” while Mancini’s daughter, Monica, sang “Dear Heart” and Clint Holmes did “Charade” and “Whistling Away the Dark.” Patti Austin performed both “Dreamsville” (with Take 6) and “Days of Wine and Roses” while Matthew Morrison sang “Two for the Road.”
Chris Walden conducted the Mancini Institute ensemble – flown in from its base at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music – in such standards as “Baby Elephant Walk” and “The Thorn Birds.” Former Mancini Institute fellow Ernesto Fernandez performed the virtuoso solos demanded by “Cameo for Flute,” which the composer wrote for famed flautist James Galway (who sent a video greeting).
The evening opened with “The Pink Panther” featuring saxophone soloist Dave Koz, who was hauled off the stage by uniformed officers at the behest of a trenchcoated fellow (presumably Inspector Clouseau) who removed his hat and mustache to reveal himself as Robert Wagner, an old Mancini chum who starred in the original 1964 film.
The orchestra also performed a medley from Mancini’s Oscar-winning song score for “Victor/Victoria” to clips from the 1982 film. It served as an introduction to Julie Andrews, who starred in seven Mancini-scored films and whose late husband Blake Edwards collaborated with the composer on nearly three dozen film, TV, and stage projects from the late 1950s until his death in 1994.
Andrews spoke warmly of Mancini as a family friend (he called her “Jules” and would often call long-distance to their European home to play his newest theme for an Edwards film) and introduced his wife, Ginny, from the stage.
Wallis managing director Rachel Fine said the proceeds from the evening would go toward the “artistic, education and outreach programs” of the three-year-old nonprofit.
The evening – produced by Gregg Field – was billed as “Mancini Delivered,” a reference both to the Mancini postage stamp issued in 2004 and the fact that the Wallis theater is the former Beverly Hills Post Office. Mancini-themed cocktails (including a “Pink Panther” and an “Inspector Clouseau”) were served during a pre-concert reception featuring Wolfgang Puck hors d’oeuvres and pink decorations.