The following is a guest post from Archive Processing Technician Mónica Hurd. In celebration of publishing the finding aid to the Henry Mancini Papers, In the Muse is celebrating “Mancini Week” with multiple blog posts from the Division’s archive processing technicians who processed the collection. This post is the second of the “Mancini Week” series.
From the soft accordion playing you in with “Crazy World,” perfectly setting the scene of a 1934 Paris street, to Julie Andrews belting her heart out and shattering glass in “Le Jazz Hot” and “Shady Dame from Seville,” the music from the 1982 film Victor/Victoria ranks among Henry Mancini’s greatest scores. According to the composer himself, the film “was one of the most perfect pictures [he’d] ever done,” and was one alone that he could watch again and again, each time bringing him new pleasure.
The best way to summarize the joyful farce that is Blake Edwards’s Victor/Victoria is by quoting the film itself: “A woman, pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman?” Victoria (Julie Andrews) is the woman trapped in such a conundrum, and who, down on her luck, starving, and ready to sell her virtue for a meatball, hatches a plan with the flamboyant Toddy (Robert Preston) to masquerade as the world’s greatest female impersonator. The scheme is so preposterous that it works. Victoria’s transformation into the Polish aristocrat Count Victor Grazinsky makes her/him the toast of Paris. Things go smoothly until love enters the picture with the arrival of King Marchand (James Garner). King falls for Victoria while she is dressed as Victor dressed as Victoria, and he refuses to believe that the performer who has stolen his heart is a man.
Mancini’s music is what truly brings this story to life. The ridiculousness of a scene with characters sneaking around the same location through door after door and somehow never running into one another would not have been the same without Mancini’s playful song “Cat and Mouse.”
The film boasts six vocal numbers interspersed throughout the story as nightclub performances. Most notable among them is “Crazy World,” sung at a pivotal point in the plot as Victoria finds herself struggling with the expectations placed on each gender she plays. According to lyricist Leslie Bricusse, he and Mancini completed the score for Victor/Victoria in only three weeks. Mancini worked quickly; during a recording session for “Shady Dame from Seville” when things didn’t sound quite right Mancini stopped everything and re-orchestrated the entire song in under 25 minutes.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and Mancini and Bricusse took home the win for Best Original Song Score. It was Mancini’s first Oscar since 1963 when he and Johnny Mercer won for Best Original Song for “Days of Wine and Roses.”
Following the success of the film, Edwards and others began plotting the possible transition to Broadway. Nothing came of this idea until 1993 when putting together a musical adaptation of the original film became a certainty. However, correspondence between Bricusse and Mancini throughout the 1980s suggests that the idea was never far from the minds of the original team.
The plan was to have the stage version finished by the end of February 1994 and ready for rehearsals. There were many things that stalled the production of the musical, the most significant being Mancini’s sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Mancini was given only months to live, but determined to fulfill his commitment, he continued working until his death in June that year.
Returning to a project completed years before proved a difficult task for Edwards, Mancini, and Bricusse. Working from an incomplete script, Mancini and Bricusse were not able to work at the fast pace they had ten years prior, and as a result, the score was only partially complete at the time of Mancini’s death.
Frank Wildhorn was brought in to finish the score and wrote three songs, taking inspiration from several of Mancini’s original ideas. These somewhat-lackluster Mancini-inspired Wildhorn songs, in addition to changes made to accommodate Andrew’s aging voice, resulted in a musical not quite able to reach its full potential. Critics thought the songs were unfulfilling and even the five original hits pulled from the film unsatisfying. With Mancini not there to ‘fix’ mistakes as they were found during rehearsals, as he had done previously, problematic songs were simply cut, and new ones were written.
In the end, the show contained five songs from the original film, six new Mancini/Bricusse songs, and three new Wildhorn/Bricusse songs. While few seemed to enjoy the Wildhorn/Bricusse originals like “Louis Says,” no one was singing the new Mancini/Bricusse songs on the way home, either.
While Victor/Victoria the Musical ended up being Mancini’s first official Broadway score, it was not the first stage production Mancini attempted. In 1978, he and Bricusse worked on a musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play Major Barbara, but the production never made it to a stage. Sadly, this means those wishing to see Mancini’s compositions for stage are left only with scores that were never completed.
Thankfully, the film lives on, with Mancini’s score intact. It evokes the same happiness that Mancini himself found during each viewing. Bolstered by the still strong voice of Julie Andrews and all the comedy that comes with a Blake Edwards flick, we might just be able to face this “Crazy World,” all the way from “Gay Paree” to “Chicago, Illinois.”