The setting should be "Bennett-esque," which is to say part club, part concert hall, part recording studio, part Las Vegas. So, as for literal setting, the set for I LEFT MY HEART can and should be inspired by those things. Places in which Bennett would have thrived and felt at home are the best choice. I think that the most important question to ask is this, "would Bennett have done a gig here at any time in his life?" If the answer is yes, then it is the right choice. The American Stage production put the musicians at the center of the stage (which the creqators both think is essential) so that the singers could easily move in and around freely. This allowed for optimum interaction between singers and accompanist, singers and drummer, singers and base, as well as allowed the trumpet to come out and join the guys for things like “Embraceable You.”
You only ever see Bennett in one of two things: a tux or a suit. In the premiere Act 1 was the tux (which resonated with “Top Hat White Tie and Tails”) with of course may variations: actors always found the perfect time mid-act to work without the coat, without the tie, etc., inevitably redressing for a sharp ending to the act. Act 2 was the same way, only with beautiful Italian suits, each one like these performers themselves slightly different from the other. Bennett’s signature move of loosening the tie (which they all did) usually happened in the quietest section of Act 2, when it was simply a single singer in one lone lighting special, at the piano, working as closely with the accompanist as a singer can.
A black or white baby grand piano
Sound is THE MOST IMPORTANT TECHNICAL ELEMENT of I LEFT MY HEART. The purity of the human voice mattered to Bennett and it will matter to your audiences. The cast sings 40+ vocal selections and it is vital that we hear the words and phrasing clearly without having to strain our ears. Bennett was a true master in the art of using a microphone in performance; have you ever seen a picture of him in performance NOT using a handheld mic? Therefore, like MY WAY, I LEFT MY HEART is intended to be performed using microphones as sound reinforcement.
Depending on the size of your theatre, you may also want to reinforce the piano or stand up bass. My recommendation is to start sound rehearsals as soon as possible and locate the best sound engineer you can find to mix the show during each performance.
The design should be romantic, sensual and moody. The production lends itself easily to the use of dramatic specials, gobos and break-up patterns. I prefer a white cyc in the background, which can be changed to various saturated colors. All lighting should be more theatrical than realistic and evoke mood rather than place.
This will perhaps the most important hiring decision to be made for the production. This person controls almost everything about the production (tempo, style, energy, etc.). The perfect player would be an EXCELLENT sight reader, who not only has played musical theatre productions, but is in their soul also a jazz player. Much of the music is orchestrated in a jazz grammar. The original pianist/arranger/musical director, Vince di Mura, did not play the show the same way twice in 15 performances and yet he never failed to support the singers or the dramatic moment on stage. In many ways, this person becomes the fourth character in the production, so look for a great musician who also has an interesting stage personality. In the premiere at American Stage this musician also served as Musical Director and conducted the stand up bass player and drummer from the piano during performance.
The vocal parts reference Bennett's style and his rhythmic and melodic treatment of the music he sings. He gives little stress to the downbeat and always phrases as though bar lines did not exist. All songs are in his keys, tempos and formal structure.
The rhythm section pays a debt to Ralph Sharon (Bennett's Musical Director) and his trio; though the piano part itself is a bit more original to my own style of comping and counter voice leading. Most importantly, the score has flavors of Bill Evans. For this reason, it is imperative that musical directors become familiar with Bennett's jazz collaborations via the recordings. The style and traditions of all the wonderful pianists he worked with are honored here.
The use of the trumpet is very important and comes from the recordings themselves. Bennett seems to love the timbre of the muted horn and its relationship to his voice. Though primarily used to fill with quasi-improvised figuration and soli, the trumpet behaves like a fourth voice in the show; and has set and extended solo treatment.
In the context of the songs in this show and our choice of material, Bennett is a jazz singer and these arrangements are constructed for jazz musicians. That does present a dilemma since "I Left My Heart" is being offered as a work for the theatre and will be confronted by theatre musicians who may not be adept at jazz practice. In the interest of providing producers with all the tools needed for the successful production of our work, we have created a version of the show which is realized in standard notation but can also be used by those musicians who are trained in jazz as a discipline.
Which leads me to the most important issue of all. We created a show that ultimately respects Mr. Bennett and have provided a score, which is authentic and complete to his vision, talent and sublime musicality.
Thank you Tony Bennett for all the years of lovingly created music.