Danny Elfman: The Music of Tim Burton’s Films

Back in 1985, the seminal new-wave band Oingo Boingo hosted a dead man’s party, and singer Danny Elfman famously wondered who could ask for more. As it turned out, he didn’t have to look any further than the man in the mirror — the film score he composed that same year, for Tim Burton’s film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” scratched a creative itch that would, for the next 28 years, become Elfman’s true musical legacy.

Courtesy of Disney Enterprises

Courtesy of Disney Enterprises

To celebrate Halloween 2013, Elfman appeared on a Los Angeles stage for the first time in nearly two decades for a trio of shows celebrating his creative partnership with the iconic director. Featuring the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and the Page LA Choir, “Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton” brought to life the sounds of some of the modern era’s most timeless movies, all while large screens showed footage from the films.

The first of the show’s three-night run brought a packed house to downtown LA’s Nokia Theatre, with many audience members arriving in Halloween costumes and others dressed far more casually than would typically be accepted at an orchestral performance. The musicians themselves did not take the event lightly, however, and sounded impeccable, despite having had their first rehearsal a mere 24 hours earlier.

Starting right on time — further proof that Elfman long ago abandoned the looseness of rock concerts for the decorum of the orchestral experience — the show was split into two parts. The first featured music from earlier films including “Ed Wood” and “Beetlejuice.” Following a 15-minute intermission, the group embarked on a second, longer set, which included material from some of Burton’s 21st century offerings: “Planet of the Apes,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Frankenweenie.”

Polite and attentive throughout, the audience’s collective mood shifted from pedestrian observation to enthusiastic participation toward the end of the evening, when the orchestra began performing selections from “Edward Scissorhands,” the evening’s first genuinely special moment. Elfman’s classic score took the audience on a ride; one moment sweeping them away on the wings of the choir and the next exciting their senses with high-tempo rises and falls.

Courtesy of Skellington Productions

Courtesy of Skellington Productions

But the night’s most eagerly awaited moment came during the orchestra’s performance of music from “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” during which Elfman himself confidently strode onto the stage and reprised his role as Jack Skellington for several songs. Elfman was brilliant, effortlessly going from moody and morose for “Jack’s Lament” to high-octane and fleet-footed for “What’s This?” As an unadvertised bonus, Elfman also brought out Catherine O’Hara, who voiced Sally in the film, and sang “Sally’s Song” to a pleasantly surprised crowd.

The performance, which lasted well over two hours, ended with a well-deserved standing ovation — as any worthy orchestral performance might — but was otherwise far from a typical classical-music performance, with audience members continuing to flow into the theater well after the concert had begun, recording video with their phones, and applauding between movements. The nature of the event allowed for such flexibility, however, and neither conductor John Mauceri nor any musician seemed at all fazed.

Though no more dates have been announced, there is talk of the show going on tour around the country. If it does, make sure to buy a ticket — if you don’t, missing “Jack’s Lament” may become your lament.