Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Dynamic Duo: Danny Elfman and Tim Burton

Hi everyone,

Danny Elfman and Tim Burton
© Kevin Winter/Getty Images
If you follow my Johnny Kitties series, you already know how much I love Tim Burton through his collaboration with Johnny Depp, but I think I actually fell in love with Tim Burton first. I've seen all of his movies since the very first one, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, in 1985, and that's when his collaboration with composer Danny Elfman started. At the time, I only knew Danny Elfman as the lead singer of the rock band Oingo Boingo, who performed the title song for the great '80s classic comedy Weird Science. (The video for this song was on MTV often, and who could forget that face and flaming orange hair?)

Pee-wee's Big Adventure marked the start of a 30-year-and-counting creative partnership between these two artists. Tim Burton's films are unmistakably his artistic vision, and Danny Elfman complements them with equally inventive musical scores. They've worked together on 16 film projects so far and, last fall at the Kennedy Center, the National Symphony Orchestra celebrated all of them – except for Big Eyes, which wasn't yet completed at the time – in a multimedia retrospective concert, Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton.

I knew I'd love this concert, but it far exceeded any of my expectations. Can you imagine how my excitement escalated when I opened the playbill and saw this?

For this concert, Danny Elfman created new, shorter arrangements of the scores listed in the program that capture their unique spirit and memorable moments. An introductory medley opened the show as a giant screen above the stage displayed a montage of film clips from Tim Burton's corresponding films. Then, the symphony launched into tributes to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (listen to that film's opening theme here) followed by Pee-wee's Big Adventure. (This music makes me so happy! Listen here. This project was not only the first movie Tim Burton ever directed but also the first film score Danny Elfman ever wrote.) In addition to film clips, the screen displayed several of Tim Burton's film-inspired artwork during each piece. We saw how his weird, wonderful paintings translated into each movie. Tim Burton supervised the development of this concert, choosing which film scenes and artwork to show during each suite. Through much of each piece, though, the screen displayed a gray and black squiggly-patterned drawing that Tim Burton created specifically for use during this concert. He wanted the audience to focus more on his friend's music than his films.

At the end of Danny Elfman's exuberant, joyous concoction for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, we were in stunned silence for at least 10 seconds before slowly remembering to clap. Our conductor John Mauceri turned around to face us and said, "Clearly, we've mesmerized you..."

It was true! The music, artwork, and artistry created such an intoxicating, immersive experience. We were dazed.

I was surprised by how emotional I became during this concert. I grew up watching all of these movies, making trips to the theaters to see them when they were first released. It hit me that these two have been in my life since I was 11. They saved the haunting theme for Edward Scissorhands, which may be Danny Elfman's most recognized and imitated work, for last because everyone loves it most. Hearing it live with a full choir, courtesy of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, nearly made me cry. But I got distracted by someone two rows ahead of me who was already wiping away her tears.

Sandy Cameron photo © Juan Ocampo/
Nokia Theatre L.A. Live/Bernstein Associates
Then, the Edward Scissorhands suite shifted into happier haircut mode. Violinist Sandy Cameron, with wild hair, dark eyes, and a black leather and lace outfit (no doubt inspired by Edward's look), suddenly got my attention on stage. She played speedily, writhing with the melody like a snake during her electrifying solo. Everyone cheered as she bowed dramatically when finished (and the piece wasn't even over yet). Watch out for her; she's going places... It was clear during this concert that all the musicians had fun performing this music. The emotion and whimsy is infectious!

As if we weren't delirious enough, the show offered an encore with Alice in Wonderland, featuring 12-year-old soloist Thomas Lynch. (Listen here for Danny Elfman's "Alice's Theme.") This light, exciting piece just whet our appetites for what's to come; Alice Through the Looking Glass, Danny Elfman's upcoming film score project that continues Alice's story, is due in theaters next year. Although Tim Burton is not directing this time around, you'll recognize other familiar faces. Are you pacing the floors like I am?

Well, you don't need to be familiar with Danny Elfman or Tim Burton to enjoy this exhilarating show. I took someone with me who didn't know who they were. "That makes me even more excited about you coming with me," I told her. "You don't need to have seen all the movies to enjoy the music. Danny Elfman is different; the music is interesting enough on its own. I think you'll like it!" As predicted, she came out of it a fan – yay! If you're still not quite convinced, this trailer will give you an idea of the awesomeness that awaits you....

Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton video trailer: http://youtu.be/p-3jFfvCSdE.

Check out this unforgettable multimedia concert if it stops by your town! In addition to various spots around the country, it will play July 2-12, 2015, during New York's Lincoln Center Festival. Enjoy!



Mandy B. said...

Wow--so jealous that you could see this. You know that I'd be bawling for the Edward Scissorhands piece.

Melissa Connolly said...

I'm so sorry that I didn't see your comment until now! Be sure to catch this show if you can: It's worth the tears. :-)

Best, Melissa