Danny Elfman Returns to the Stage After Eighteen Years

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Seeing Danny Elfman on stage singing the songs he penned and sang for the stop action character Jack Skellington (aka “The Pumpkin King” from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) felt a little like getting a peek behind the curtain and seeing a musical "Wizard of Oz." Strangely enough, the fright occurred in reverse: Mr Elfman’s contorting body and bizarre facial expressions did more for the spirit of Halloween than Jack’s amicable macabre presence on screen directly behind him. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less. I saw Mr. Elfman perform with Oingo Boingo in the 80’s and then, with his appearance at the Nokia Theater, he rocked with an unforgettable vaudevillian darkness.

If you’re a fan of Tim Burton’s films, there was no better way to spend Halloween night than hearing the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and the LA Page Choir (conducted by John Mauceri) perform rousing selections from Mr. Elfman’s massive body of work. Danny Elfman’s oeuvre has always played a prominent role in Burton’s films; it’s a match made in a spooky heaven that’s been going on for some 28 years. The evening was a gothic celebration: fans who came to the venue were dressed to kill in the costumes of their favorite Burton characters and cheered loudly when their favorite characters appeared on the screen.

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Many of the musicians on stage played on the original scores themselves, and many have been working with Mr. Elfman from the beginning. They are some of Los Angeles’s most skilled and gifted musicians. The high points included Charles Lester’s expert playing of a very vintage looking, perhaps tube circuit based, Theremin in “Mars Attacks.” Bruce Dukov’s (principal violin) solo work in “Beetle Juice” was rich and dark with a subversive soul lurking inside of it. Sandy Cameron, the featured guest violinist who played with the “Edward Scissorhands Gypsy Band,” commanded the room both with her highly perfected, ferocious playing and her skin-tight Cat-woman inspired outfit. And whenever needed, the LA Page choir was spot on bringing full force to the gothic Carmina Burana inspired vocals of Mr Elfmam’s scores. Also of note was the surprise appearance by Catherine O’hara, the actress who played Delia Deetz in “Beetle Juice,” who came on stage and sang an exquisite solo from “ The Nightmare Before Christmas."

Mr. Elfman is not shy about bringing the low-end into his scores that often feature bass, contra bass trombone and contra bass clarinet. In “Batman,” there’s a pipe organ and the subs ringing out of it in the final fermata might have registered 2.3 on the Richter Scale inside the Nokia.

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Tim Burton came on stage at the end to congratulate everyone. He’s yin to Danny’s yang on stage. He perhaps would have been happy enough to let his drawings and film clips play on the three big screens to tell his story. Of course, the crowd went wild as he walked on stage and took his place next to Danny Elfman for a final bow. And there they were: two master mitigators of the dark side. It was Halloween in full force.

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Text by David Ralicke; Photos by Paula Tripodi

Note: The words in Music Connection’s “Photo Blog Live Music Reviews” are opinions expressed by the writer/photographer and may not reflect those of Music Connection magazine. To get in contact with a writer/photographer, you may email contactmc[at]musicconnection.com.