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Concert review: Live screening of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” at the Hollywood Bowl

(Harish Balasubramani/ Illustrations director)

Halloween at The Hollywood Bowl Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" The Hollywood Bowl October 18

By Jordan Dakin

October 30, 2016 4:19 pm

The “The Nightmare Before Christmas” soundtrack magically ties together Halloween tunes and Christmas carols.

Seventeen thousand people filled the Hollywood Bowl to the brim Friday night for the live screening and orchestral performance of Tim Burton’s holiday cult classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The soundtrack composer and songwriter of the film Danny Elfman contributed live vocals to the event. Fanatics of the film dressed up for the occasion, many donning ensembles to portray their favorite characters from the film. The most common character getups included fashionable takes on Jack Skellington, Sally and the ghostly puppy, Zero.

This is the second year in a row that the live screening event has occurred at the Hollywood Bowl and purportedly the last time it will occur. Elfman first performed a medley of the soundtrack with a backing band, but without the film itself in London in 2013. At the Hollywood Bowl, the film plays on large screens above the orchestra and the dialogue remains intact as the orchestra performs the film’s supporting score. Elfman and the original cast members sing the songs he wrote and composed for the soundtrack live.

Elfman contributed live vocals to the film’s soundtrack at the helm of the nearly 80-piece orchestra. He wore Jack Skellington’s iconic pin-striped suit. As the orchestra played the film’s overture, minimalist sketches of the film’s characters poured across the screens while the audience eagerly awaited Elfman’s first appearance.

Engaging in the live performance of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” proved an absolutely surreal experience, especially as someone who grew up watching the 1993 film. Elfman’s passionate movements and mannerisms conveyed his understanding of Jack Skellington’s persona. While he didn’t necessarily move in synchronization with the character, his body language – the flailing of his arms, the bending of his knees, the shaking of his fists – illustrated Jack Skellington’s frustration.

During especially lengthy and emotional numbers such as the lament “Jack’s Obsession,” Elfman stomped to the very edge of the stage, gesturing to the orchestra pit as he yelled loudly, “What does it mean?” The audience could grasp just how distraught the character was in his search for something more meaningful than Halloween Town.
Danny Elfman donned a pin-striped suit to perform the songs of the character Jack Skellington at the "The Nightmare Before Christmas" live at the Hollywood Bowl. (Courtesy of Randall Michelson Photography)

Though Chris Sarandon voiced the spoken dialogue of Jack Skellington in the film, Elfman uttered some of the more animated lines of dialogue live during the performance, especially those that led into or came immediately following a musical number. For the number “Town Meeting Song,” Elfman seamlessly transitioned between theatrical dialogue and musical performance.

The only mistake in an otherwise picture-perfect show came when Elfman rushed one of his cues and tried to perform one of his animated lines early. “Listen everyone,” he said. The crowd merely laughed and cheered in response, appreciating his never-yielding energy.

Approaching the film’s halfway point, Elfman introduced two original cast members to perform “Kidnap the Sandy Claws.” Catherine O’Hara, an actress from the films “Home Alone” and “Beetlejuice,” took the stage next to Elfman, donning a witch’s ensemble. She was followed by Paul Reubens, a comedian known most prominently for creating and portraying the character Pee-wee Herman. Together, the three adopted the personas of the film’s mischievous children Lock, Shock and Barrel just before the intermission.

As the audience cleared out when the film ended, Elfman left the stage momentarily before returning in another persona altogether. He had unexpectedly traded his pin-striped suit for a black t-shirt and his microphone for an electric guitar as the other members of his ’80s new wave band, Oingo Boingo, joined him onstage for a rousing rendition of the Halloween classic “Dead Man’s Party,” the only song of the night not from the film.

“I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go,” Elfman sang.

Nevertheless, Elfman certainly succeeded in transporting his audience of fellow misfits to the furthest reaches of Halloween Town on Friday night.

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Jordan Dakin
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