Musician and bandleader Manny Moreira, a Vero Beach transplant, hopes to herald a return of the sophisticated elegance of the Art Deco era through his New Deco Orchestra. Moreira is the founder and artistic director of the orchestra, which will make its local debut on New Year’s Eve, heralding in 2019 with a ‘Diamonds are Forever Party of the Century’ at the Heritage Center in celebration of the Vero Beach Centennial.
Moreira has been pushing the boundaries since his birth, when he made his own unscripted debut. As his Brazilian-born parents were traveling from their country to the United States, his mother’s water broke somewhere over Cuba. They were forced to deplane in Miami, where Moreira, their third child, was born. The family decided to reside in Miami for several more years before eventually moving to New York.
Moreira says music was always a centerpiece of his life, noting “my house was full of music. My father was a conservatory-trained musician.”
Moreira began strumming a plastic guitar at age 7, garnering a little help from Sebastião Tapajós, a young Brazilian man who at the time was living in the basement of the family home.
“My father was trying to get him on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show.’ He played the most moving version of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ I’ve ever heard, and it was on a nylon-string guitar,” Moreira recalls. A classically-trained guitarist, Tapajós would eventually record more than 50 albums.
Moreira admits that, in his 7-year-old mind, he had hoped Tapajós would have preferred playing the fancier Silvertone guitar he had snuck out of his brother’s room instead.
During his formative years, Moreira says he had thoughts of becoming an astronaut until he discovered that he could actually make money playing music.
“After a gig at a house party the drummer gave me $7,” Moreira recalls, chuckling over his first big payday.
Moreira attended Five Towns College in New York for a year, but left after deciding to further his musical education independently. He studied with a variety of professionals including acclaimed jazz guitarist Pat Martino, attended night classes at the Julliard School and later also studied theater at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
For the past 30 years, Moreira has worked as a guitarist, singer, producer, arranger and composer, and has amassed an extensive roll-call of national and international performances in venues from New York’s Lincoln Center to London’s Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club.
He has worked with the likes of Ann-Margret, Helen Reddy, Eartha Kitt and Carol King, and even had a hand in the Broadway musical “On Your Feet!,” the story of Vero’s adopted musical phenoms, Emilio and Gloria Estefan.
Moreira played guitar in the pit for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “In the Heights” as well as the Grammy-winning recording of that show. Other Broadway credits include “The Who’s Tommy,” Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” and “Smokey Joe’s Café,” and on television he was a guitarist on the Nickelodeon series “Dora the Explorer.”
All the while though, never far from his thoughts, was the dream of creating and conducting his own orchestra.
“I’ve always had the idea for this, but I think I needed to do everything I’ve done to prepare,” says Moreira.
As a result of his multiple years of experience as a performer, producer and director of global corporate events, Moreira had amassed an impressive network of top-level talent that he could call on to launch his vision. As a way of cultivating investors, he eventually put together a show at the Highline Ballroom in New York.
Moreira had his first introduction to Vero Beach as a performer in the pit at Riverside Theatre, showcasing his talents in productions of “A Chorus Line,” “Saturday Night Fever” and, most recently, “Smokey Joe’s Café.”
“I got a vibe in this town that spoke to me of an appreciation of the arts unlike anything I had experienced in a long time,” he says.
It was during a phone conversation with Anne Shuttlesworth, Riverside Theatre’s music director, that she proposed he relocate to Vero Beach. At the time he was lamenting New York’s cold weather as he chipped ice off of his 120-foot driveway. It wasn’t the first time she had attempted to lure him to our balmy shores, but this time he was finally ready.
“The minute I pulled up in the parking lot and shut the engine off, I said, ‘Send for my cat and the rest of my gear. I don’t care if I ever see the Northeast again.’”
The pieces have since all fallen into place for his dream – 10 pieces, that is. His New Deco Orchestra promises a multimedia stage show with a revolving cast of performers. An immersive experience, their music includes every genre and spans tunes from the 1930s through the music of today.
“We cycle through decades. The DNA of the show is expectancy; it’s really about keeping people off balance. They never know what is going to happen next,” Moreira explains. “When you walk into the room, you get the sense that you’ve walked onto the set of a post-modern, film-noir movie.”
He plans to take people on a musical journey using chiaroscuro – an effect of contrasted light and shadow – to set the tone and add to the experience.
“New Deco is a big show. It’s not just a gig; it’s a full-on multimedia thing. It really is an event in and of itself,” says Moreira.
Proceeds from the Centennial New Year’s Eve party will benefit Vero Heritage Inc., the nonprofit organization that manages and maintains the historic Heritage Center and its adjacent Citrus Museum.
In addition to a three-act musical performance and dancing to Moreira and his New Deco Orchestra, the elegant black-tie event will feature a champagne reception and Chef Ashley Allison’s Crave Bar, culminating at midnight with a ball drop and fireworks.
For more information about the New Deco Orchestra, visit newdecoorchestra.com. To purchase tickets to the New Year’s Eve party, call 772-770-2263.