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Mancini Magic

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Mancini Magic was the well-chosen title of the latest Kirtzerland at Sterling’s concert. Henry Mancini’s composing career occurred at a time when American popular music was changing.It was a time when classic songs like Mancini wrote shared the music charts with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. While Rock eventually became the dominant style, Mancini continued to write a treasure trove of wonderful songs, mostly for films.

Master of Ceremonies and impresario Bruce Kimmel curates these evenings with a sincere desire to show the breadth of a career. This involves choosing a program which features the familiar and the forgotten. With a composer as masterly as Mancini, this juxtaposition allows us to experience the unknown as well as appreciate anew a song as ubiquitous as “Moon River.”

Kimmel has been a Mancini fan since childhood, first hearing his themes for 50’s television shows. These melodies have stayed with him, inspiring him to write lyrics to a couple of the themes. His lyrics were certainly more felicitous than those created for Mancini’s first blockbuster hit, the theme from the television show, Peter Gunn. Although this song was gamely performed by Wendy Rosoff, it didn’t offer any conclusive reason for adding lyrics to Mancini’s hard-driving instrumental.

Rosoff returned with a deliberately brainless and suggestive “Paris Makes Me Horny” from Mancini’s partially completed score for the stage version of Victor/Victoria. And, if she channeled her inner Lesley Ann Warren, what better choice is there?

Amy Gillette did a lovely job with two contrasting songs from Mancini’s score for an earlier and far less successful Julie Andrews vehicle, Darling Lili. “Whistling Away the Dark” is, perhaps, one of Mancini’s most haunting ballads, and the direct simplicity of Gillette’s performance allowed the song its due.

Adrienne Stiefel’s crystalline soprano easily navigated Mancini’s touching “Two for the Road” theme, though she only hinted at the bitter behind the sweet. She also had the good fortune to be able to turn loose on one of Mancini’s more raucous numbers, “You Shouldn’ta Hadn’ta Oughtn’ta Swang On Me” from The Great Race.

Kimmel’s male cast included both seasoned and new talents. The always authoritative Robert Yacko opened the show with a light-hearted “High Time,” one of the numbers for which Kimmel created lyrics. Yacko brought more of his trademark sound to a wistful “Dear Heart” and an effortless rendition of Mancini’s tricky theme to Charade.

Daniel Thomas Bellusci won the title of LA’s Next Great Stage Star 2017, and his performance offered the promise of a compelling stage performer. Bellusci had fun with another Kimmel lyric for “Moon Talk,” but he brought genuine beauty and sensitivity to “Natalie” and “Tomorrow is my Friend” from two nearly-forgotten film flops. Unlike most singers of his generation, Bellusci is unafraid to bring his personality into a song and is quite comfortable with using his body, particularly his hands, in communicating with an audience.

Musical Director Richard Allen gracefully accompanied the artists, with occasional assistance from guitarist Grant Geissman. But the two men really went to town with their versions of two of Mancini’s most iconic instrumental themes, “The Pink Panther” and “Baby Elephant Walk.”

The evening proved a perfect reminder of how innovative and important Mancini’s compositional voice was in mid-century American music.

Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal    August 6, 2017



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.