Ever since I moved back to the NYC-area in 2012, I’ve considered myself really, truly lucky to be here—mostly because this is where I grew up and where my family is, but also because there are so many opportunities to partake of unique Disney content that you just don’t find throughout the rest of the country. (I’m looking at you, meeting Jodi Benson, visiting Inside the Lion King and Little Mermen shows.)
This past Wednesday night, I had one such experience when Dan and I saw Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: In Concert live at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. I’ve seen NBC before, of course (it’s one of Dan’s favorites), and I’ve even been to sing-along showings of the movie … but this was my first time ever seeing a live performance of a film on stage. And it was awesome.
To give you an idea of how it worked: The film played on three enormous screens over the stage. The stage itself was populated by a full orchestra and choir. The orchestra and choir performed all of the music live, but the dialogue was played through the film. The film’s songs were performed live by five voice actors as well as three featured singers, and when they performed, the center screen showed a close up of the performers (while the two side screens continued playing the film). The live music was pretty well synced to the film, and after each musical performance, the film briefly went dark to allow for applause.
All that’s to say, if you think it would too weird or hard to follow, it’s not. And if you ever have a chance to see a beloved film performed live … do it. Don’t hesitate because it is a magical experience. Especially when the main talent is an iconic and incredibly talented performer like Danny Elfman (who has scored all but three of Tim Burton’s films, including Nightmare, and also provided the singing voice for Jack, among other impressive feats of musicianship).
Seeing Danny Elfman live, performing his own works on stage, was really just too fun. And too strange—it’s The Pumpkin King’s voice… coming out of that small, energetic man. Yes, strange, for sure. But even though he insists that, ” I’m one of those writers who performed, not a performer who writes. I never got over stage fright,” Elfman is electric on stage, and he clearly deeply loves these songs and this film. His encore performance of Oogie Boogie’s Song—complete with joyous, fluid dance moves—at the end of the film brought the house down.
Joining him on stage were Catherine O’Hara (yes, Kevin’s mom), who did the voices of both Sally and Shock (one of the trick-or-treaters), and Oogie Boogie himself, Broadway superstar Ken Page. They were both glorious and humble–I was shocked at how well Catherine still performs, but I guess when improv is your game, you have to keep your voice in tip-top shape.
Speaking of improv, Greg Proops was one of the original voice actors in the film, and he reprised that role on stage. Dan and I are pretty big fans, but neither of us knew he was involved with Nightmare so it was a pretty big shock to see him on stage!
Another highlight of the show: Sandy Cameron. She performed an incredible violin solo inspired by Nightmare (and, I’m guessing, composed by Elfman) at the top of the second act … and it really brought chills. I’ve never been so electrified by a stringed instrument, but she was so energetic, physical and commanding. She was actually kind of like Elfman … except female. And with a violin.
My one disappointment is that the screening wasn’t more crowded. Dan and I bought $25 nosebleed seats but ended up in primo $500 floor seats. The people who were there were super loving and generous and having a great, great time. We ended up seated near a woman who made her own glowing Zero, and when a young man walked by who was enamored with the pup, she gave him her creation. He was overjoyed, and so were we.
Right, so we were about 50 feet from Danny Elfman, and it was amazing… but it was also kind of depressing. I mean, it was The Nightmare Before Christmas and Danny Elfman and they were giving away the best seats in the house. I hope that low turn out won’t keep Disney from putting up shows like this in Brooklyn (or Queens, or wherever). Especially not a reprisal of The Little Mermaid Live (as performed at the Hollywood Bowl).
Anyway, this is a long way around to recommend checking out any Live-to-Film screening–it’s a great way to enjoy a loved movie, introduce a classic to young people and share a magical evening with friends and like-minded folks. And I absolutely recommend a live-to-film performance of Nightmare… especially if it comes around near you anytime soon, because, in Elfman’s own words, it might not be around too much longer: “I told the producers, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do Nightmare, but we’re not done until we do New York.”
If you could see any move performed live-to-screen, what would it be? Let us know in the comments!