John Mauceri, conductor
Ruth Williamson, Queen
Ashley Brown, Snow White
Blake Griffin, Prince
Bob Bouchard, Dopey
Matt Crabtree, Bashful
Jeffrey Polk, Doc
Amir Talai, Sneezy
Rick Wasserman, Grumpy
Harrison White, Sleepy
Jeff Lee, director
Justin Robertson, Happy
About This Performance
Classic scores then and now- from Sleeping Beauty to Pirates of the
Carribean – plus the world premiere concert performance of Snow White and
the Seven Drawfs — A Symphonic Retelling featuring a full cast of singers
and actors including Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins on Broadway) as Snow
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) has become recognized as one of Tim Burton’s most unusual and visually distinctive works and a perennial seasonal favorite. This (as one critic put it) “perversely charming holiday fairy tale” tells of how two holidays collide when Jack Skellington, the bumbling but well-meaning Pumpkin King, introduces Christmas (and Sandy Claws) to his Halloween town. The innovative stop-motion film was recently remastered in 3-D, and has the unique distinction of being the inspiration for the annual holiday makeover of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.
Danny Elfman was born in Los Angeles in 1953. Burton, an avid fan of Elfman’s ’70s rock band, Oingo Boingo, invited him to create his first orchestral score for Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in 1985. As Lukas Kendall observes: Elfman’s “quirky, off-beat but dramatically astute style was a perfect match for Burton’s bizarre visuals.” It became the first of an ongoing collaboration that extends from Burton’s ensuing Beetlejuice (1988) to his much-anticipated Alice in Wonderland, scheduled for release in 2010.
Among Elfman’s many other scores are Sommersby (1993), Black Beauty (1994), To Die For (1995), Men in Black (1997), A Simple Plan (1998), Milk (2008), and Terminator Salvation (2009). For Nightmare Before Christmas he provided songs, score, and several singing voices, including that of the film’s lovable skeletal hero.
The spectacular Sleeping Beauty (1959) was Disney’s animated answer to Hollywood’s wide-screen epics of the 1950s. The symphonic score (with extensive choral passages) was adapted from The Sleeping Beauty ballet by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Posthumously Tchaikovsky, who composed some of the orchestral repertory’s most popular Romantic-era symphonies and concertos, was no stranger to Hollywood. In the early sound era one of his themes from Swan Lake was heard as the Main Title for both Dracula and The Mummy, and his Nutcracker Suite provided the inspiration for one of Fantasia’s most magical segments. Indeed some of his ballet passages (such as the Battle with the Mice from The Nutcracker) might be cited as early prototypes of modern film scoring.
George Bruns (1914-1983) adapted Tchaikovsky’s score for Disney’s film. Like many Hollywood composers who emerged in the 1950s, Bruns received his musical grounding in the big band era of the 1940s. In 1954 he composed the music for a little tune, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” tossed off for a Frontierland segment of the Disneyland TV show. The song reached #1 on the charts and was part of a Crockett craze that swept the nation. Bruns later composed the theme park classic “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me),” for Pirates of the Caribbean, and the background scores for Disney features such as 101 Dalmatians (1961), The Jungle Book (1967), and The Aristocats (1970).
When Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl stormed into the nation’s multiplexes in July 2003, it launched a popular culture phenomenon similar in scale to Disney’s Crockett fad of the 1950s. Two Pirates sequels ensued: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), and At World’s End (2007).
The original Pirates of the Caribbean ride opened in Disneyland in 1967. It was the result of advances in technology that Disney had developed for his popular attractions at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was the largest Audio-Animatronic project that Disney and his Imagineers had developed to that point, and it remains, along with the Haunted Mansion, a peak of the early Disney theme park fusion of vivid imagination and mind-boggling technology.
The grand scale of the ride is reflected in all three films that collectively called for an armada of composers and arrangers, and composer Hans Zimmer’s collective film music “think tank,” Remote Control Productions (formerly known as Media Ventures), rose to the occasions. Zimmer himself provided the major material for a collective musical crew (including Klaus Badelt who receives the main credit for scoring Curse of the Black Pearl).
Zimmer was born in Frankfurt in 1957, and his early work included producing “Video Killed the Radio Star,” a popular hit and early MTV video for the Buggles, and a series of solo projects for which he became known for fusing traditional orchestral sounds with new music technologies. In 1988 he successfully broke into Hollywood with his score for Barry Levinson’s Rain Man. Among many ensuing scores are Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Thelma and Louise (1991), The Thin Red Line (1998), Gladiator (2000), and The Last Samurai (2003).
The Lion King (1994), the vivid and often moving coming-of-age story of a lion cub who just couldn’t wait to be king, is one of the most popular of the remarkable string of films that appeared during the Disney Studio’s renaissance of animated musicals in the 1990s. Pop icon Elton John provided the music for Tim Rice’s literate and slyly witty lyrics. Zimmer supervised the total score that won Oscars for both “Best Song” and “Best Score.” Lebo M (Lebohang Morake), a Grammy-winning South African composer, contributed the choral arrangements.
Zimmer and Lebo M lent an authentically ethnic feel to the overall score though touches of solid pop/rock also provide an appealingly contemporary yet timeless edge to some of the song arrangements. For sequences such as the elephant’s graveyard and the wildebeest stampede a big symphonic/choral sound comes to the fore. Mark Mancina, a Zimmer protégé who scored Disney’s Haunted Mansion (2003) and action films such as Speed (1994) and Twister (1996), also provided some of the underscore.
The 1930s were the key period in the early evolution of Disney animation and music. Indeed after the first Mickey Mouse shorts were released in the early sound era Disney’s pioneering interest in fusing animation and music quickly inspired his second series, the Silly Symphonies. These varied and innovative shorts were developed to showcase music in a more self-contained and sustained fashion than was possible in the more character- and gag-oriented Mickey Mouse films.
A pre-Warner Bros. Carl Stalling (1891-1972) composed the first Mickey and Silly shorts, but in the early ’30s two composers appeared who were truly to create the first Disney sound. Frank Churchill (1901-1942) was a gifted pianist with little formal training. His early experience was with dance bands, radio, and playing live “mood” music on the sets of silent films. Leigh Harline (1907-1969) was a trained musician who had graduated from the University of Utah.
It was Churchill who created the first major song hit for Disney in 1933: “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” from The Three Little Pigs. The song and the film itself both created a sensation in Depression-era America. Harline also wrote songs, but specialized in more sophisticated Silly Symphonies scores. Among them, The Goddess of Spring (1933), virtually a mini pop opera, and The Old Mill (1937), its score a purely orchestral, self-contained four-movement suite.
With the popular and critical success of his shorts, Disney optimistically looked to the future. As a boy in Kansas City he had seen a 1917 silent film version of Snow White at a newsboys’ matinee. The film made an unforgettable impression on him and the Grimm Brothers tale became the inspiration for his first animated feature. The project officially launched in 1934 when Disney gave an impressive solo performance of the story for his staff at the old Hyperion Avenue studio. He played all the roles and those in attendance never forgot that experience.
The film became a labor of love for the many artists involved. Their dedication paid off when Snow White premiered to overwhelming international acclaim in December of 1937. As in the Silly Symphonies, music played a key role. Churchill wrote the music for eight songs, reportedly chosen from 25 originally developed. Disney story man Larry Morey provided the lyrics.
The American operettas of Victor Herbert and Rudolf Friml were adapted into popular MGM films during the ’30s. Snow White is a kind of dramatic/comic operetta with symphonic interludes, but also includes touches of the more modern musical comedy style that was replacing the operetta on Broadway at the time. The film’s first third introduces five songs, often in quick succession. Churchill had a unique gift for creating simple yet unforgettable melodies that range from poignantly moving (“One Song,” “Someday My Prince Will Come”) to infectiously catchy (“Heigh Ho,” “Whistle While You Work”).
In between the vocal numbers Harline, assisted by a new Disney staff member, Paul J. Smith (1906-1985), provided orchestral interludes. Harline created the eerie music for the Magic Mirror and other evil queen/crone sequences. One of the film’s most effective transitions is from the heroine’s flight through the nightmare forest, dynamically scored by Smith, to the sunny lyricism of “With a Smile and a Song,” one of most beguiling Churchill/Morey creations. Harline and Smith also developed Churchill’s lyrical melodies (including a theme for Dopey) throughout the underscore.
Harline provided the elaborate score for Disney’s second feature, Pinocchio (1940), and on leaving Disney had a successful career in studio era Hollywood. Smith remained with the studio and created brilliant orchestral scores for the True Life Adventure nature films in the ’50s and for many cartoon shorts. Churchill died in 1942 but his enchanting melodies appear in both Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942).
Bambi is probably the symphonic peak of early Disney sound, though, thanks to his staff of still generally little-known composers, each of the first feature scores has its own inimitable fusion of the popular and the symphonic that characterizes all Disney music. It’s a timeless, appealing style that has endured for decades and one that has continued to reinvent itself, up through the great animated musicals of the 1990s and beyond.
Composer/author Ross Care has scored the documentary film Otto Messmer and Felix the Cat, and contributed articles to books published by the Library of Congress and various journals including Film Quarterly and Sight and Sound. Please visit rosscare.net.
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