"There are few who'd deny, at what I do I am the best, and my talents are renowned far and wide," begins Jack Skellington in "Jack's Lament" from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Fans of Danny Elfman got the chance to enjoy the composer's renowned far and wide talents at the Honda Center in Anaheim Sunday. The Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and Choir brought to life 15 of Elfman's iconic scores for director Tim Burton's equally iconic films. A giant screen placed behind the orchestra played clips of the accompanying films.
Though perhaps a novelty for audiences now, it's an arrangement that makes sense. A century ago, we experienced movies not through spoken dialogue and digitized special effects, but through the suggestion of visual acting and the score. When the actors on screen were greyscale and silent, it was up to the live orchestra in the theatre to carry the weight or levity intended in a scene.
The Hollywood Symphony Orchestra did just that. They provided an immaculate performance of the admirable collaboration between loyal director and composer that has spanned over 25 years.
The scores were condensed from feature film length to just a few minutes, but the medley of each soundtrack effectively conveyed the tone of each film. The Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Mars Attacks! medleys were both whimsical and dramatic, just like the films themselves. Planet of the Apes was urgent, dramatic, and more Hollywood blockbuster-esque than the rest of the scores showcased that night. It's wonderful how Elfman can bring the audience from happy to sad, the tone from whimsical to macabre in just a few moments. The condensed soundtracks only further exemplified this.
I had forgotten that Big Fish turns me into Big Baby, but was swiftly reminded as the film's music flowed from Elfman-Goes-Country to the violin-heavy, heartstrings-pulling moment when Will Bloom carries his ailing father into the river and dunks him underwater, baptismal-like, and he finally becomes the big fish. As the scene played on the big screen on stage, my tear ducts warmed up a bit–just to remind me they still work. Oh and at Intermission, a gentleman seated in the row behind me asked his group if Big Fish made them cry too. "It reminds me of my grandfather," he shared.
Edward Scissorhands was equally moving. The crowd cheered when the late Vincent Price appeared on screen, peering out behind a large machine. A dramatic, animated young lady named Sandy Cameron came on stage about halfway through Edward Scissorhands to play her Gypsy Violin. She was clad in a leather shirt and pants, accentuated with metal studs, and had a wild, vibrant curly mop of hair that swooshed as she fiddled the fuck out of the music for the (rather appropriate) hair-cutting scene.
All this was well and good, the nostalgia of it all providig for an enjoyable, unique evening. But 12 songs in and one couldn't help but feel like the show was missing something–Mr. Danny Elfman.
After Edward Scissorhands, the orchestra went silent, the lights went out and a moment of anticipation built before the first few notes of The Nightmare Before Christmas' "What's This?" bursts out and the accompanying scene plays on the screen.
And finally, Elfman triumphantly walks out from stage left, clad in a thin pinstripe black and white suit (mildly reminiscent of Jack Skellington) and takes center stage. The man needed no introduction and launched right into "Jack's Lament" with "There are few who deny at what I do I am the best…"
"And since I am dead, I can take off my head to recite Shakespearian quotations." And though Elfman didn't do Jack's Hamlet bit, you couldn't help but feel the Pumpkin King was real and right in front of you. Here he was, and here we were, two decades after the world first heard Jack Skellington sing, and the singing voice of Jack, was singing here live, and not missing so much as an inflection. He delivered each line with the original gusto heard in the film.
After singing "This is Halloween", "What's This?" and "Poor Jack", Elfman bowed and walked off stage as silent as he arrived.
The orchestra swiftly moved into the encore with the score from Alice in Wonderland. A very young boy led the vocals with his angelic, innocent voice. At the end of the encore, he took six bows as the audience kept clapping.
As an extra trick and treat, Elfman returned onstage to sing "Oogie Boogie's Song" and even acted out the motions from the film.
The night drew to an end with a quick departing message from the elusive, former Oingo Boingo frontman. "Thank you very much. Happy almost Halloween," Elfman said. He went on to note that many of the musicians who performed this night actually played on the original film scores over the years. "This is the real deal," Elfman asserted, "the best in the world."
He graciously brought back out the gypsy violinist, the young man who sang Alice in Wonderland and a few other singers who accompanied him for one last final bow.
He walked off stage, waving, and I couldn't help but wonder when, if ever, I'll see him perform live again.