After debuting at the Royal Albert Hall and a few performances in the UK, “Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton” made its North American debut and first of a three-night stand on October 29th at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live. John Mauceri conducted the 87-piece Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and 45-member Page L.A. Choir in a performance of music from all 15 of Elfman-Burton collaborations, which began with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), a film notable for being Burton’s first as a feature director and Elfman’s first as a film composer.
If there was any doubt how excited the audience, a small number of which were costumed as Burton characters, was for the event, their first reaction to clips from Burton’s films and artwork, which played on video screens throughout the evening, made clear they were overjoyed. The program wouldn’t be in chronological order as opening with music from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory revealed The more recognizable Pee-wee’s Big Adventure followed and the basses demonstrated a powerful sound.
With the choir signing “Day-o,” Beetlejuice was up next, and the audience responded loudly. During this segment, a violinist delivered an enchanting solo. A young boy in the choir had a solo to start the Sleepy Hollow portion, but his microphone didn’t appear to be working the whole time. The music was very moody, but not as memorable as some of Elfman’s other work.
During Mars Attacks, the music of ’50s sci-fi movies was evoked with the use of a theremin. The stage lighting was put to great use here. A film clip showed a Martian’s head exploded into green liquid and green lights tracked from the main video screen out into the audience. If one didn’t know a circus appears in Big Fish, it would be easy to guess from the music.
Act I closed with selections from Batman and Batman Returns. The music is iconic and as instrumental to those films’ success as any other element. There’s not even a need for visuals as the music calls forth the images in the mind of anyone who has seen them, such as the main theme and “Waltz to the Death”
After a 20-minute intermission, the orchestra moved through Elfman’s work from this millenium, starting with Planet of the Apes, which found the percussion move to the forefront, and concluding with Frankenweenie, featuring the return of the theremin. Edward Scissorhands received a great response, particularly when Vincent Price appeared on screen. Violinist Sandy Cameron performed as part of the five-piece Edward Scissorhands Gypsy Band.
Then the moment everyone had been waiting for. After the “Overture,” Danny Elfman took the stage to sing as Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas and the place went wild once he was stepped out from the wings. From the first line of lyrics, Elfman brought Jack to life and appeared just as delighted as the fans were. Over the course of approximately 21 minutes, Elfman sang “Jack’s Lament,” “What’s This?” “Jack’s Obsession,” and “Poor Jack.” In what was a surprise to me, Catherine O’Hara reprised her role to sing “Sally’s Song.”
Mauceri revealed that they first began rehearsing at 1030am the day before, demonstrating what a talented ensemble they were because they were outstanding. After a brief snippet from Alice in Wonderland (2010), Elfman returned to close the program by singing the “Oogie Boogie’s Song” with Mauceri playing the role of Santa Claus and the audiene joining in on the woah-ohs.
“Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton” was a magical night of music that revealed what a talented artist Elfman has been over his nearly 30-year career as a film composer. I highly recommend attending if the show comes to your town. Hopefully there’s going to be a home-video release because it would sell well.
“What’s This?” / “Jack’s Obsession” / “Sally’s Song”
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