Chances are, even if you haven’t seen the now classic holiday movie The Nightmare Before Christmas from beginning to end, you’re probably still aware of its iconic characters like Jack Skellington and Oogie Boogie. The characters from this film have become such a large piece of pop culture adorning many shirts and apparel it’s almost hard to keep count. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Disneyland has created what is arguably its best holiday overlay attraction in Haunted Mansion Holiday featuring these characters.
When the chance came to visit The Hollywood Bowl on Halloween night to attend “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas with Danny Elfman,” I jumped at the opportunity. Movie music and scores have always been a huge part of my life. The first cassette (yes, cassette) I remember purchasing was for a John Williams Star Wars score and, to this day, most of my music collection comes from the movies. Danny Elfman has certainly left his footprint in Hollywood (and my music collection) writing scores for films like Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Sleepy Hollow and SO many others. To hear his beautiful music from The Nightmare Before Christmas played live along with the film was treat enough, but then add on top of that a lot of the original cast members there to provide live singing vocals and it just made for a very special evening.
Before the performance began guests were encouraged to trick-or-treat around the venue where there were numerous candy stations to collect your goodies to snack on throughout the night. In addition there was a costume contest where any guest could enter to become a winner. On this evening the winning team was dressed up as the skeleton reindeer seen in the film.
Before the movie began the live orchestra played a nice medley of music from the film. After thunderous applause for the familiar melodies the film began to play and a group of singers appeared on stage singing along with the orchestra to the opening number “This is Halloween” which seemed especially appropriate since it was October 31st. The crowd even broke into cheers when Jack Skellington rose from out of the water on screen making his grand entrance in the film. It felt more like an entrance you would see in live theatre than you would in a movie.
Up next was “Jack’s Lament.” This is when the crowd got so loud that I thought it couldn’t get any louder. They would prove me wrong later. Danny Elman, the films songwriter and composer, is also the singing voice of Jack Skellington in the film, so Elfman was among the other original artists in attendance to reprise their roles. Elfman’s entrance alone evoked such joy from the audience that it seemed as though he didn’t need to do anything else and the audience would still be happy. But he did of course. My favorite performance of his that evening would have to be “Poor Jack” where he seemed to really let loose and move throughout the stage declaring “I am the Pumpkin King!”
I remember seeing this movie in theaters during its original theatrical release and I consider myself to be a fan of the film, but I clearly didn’t know as much about the fantastic cast of this film as I normally would. I was surprised and delighted to see Catherine O’Hara appear on stage to perform “Sally’s Song” and the crowd was thrilled when Oogie Boogie himself, Mr. Ken Page, appeared to perform “Oogie Boogie’s Song.” As every performer stepped on stage to re-visit these characters they performed so many years ago, there seemed to be a sense of love and pride in this very special project that has stood the test of time.
As the orchestra continued to play and the credits began to roll some audience members began leaving their seats. Not only did this frustrate me because it was rude, but I was also dumbfounded knowing that there had to be more treats on this night of trick-or-treats that so many audience members would be missing out on.
Perhaps my favorite song from the movie is “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” performed by the characters Lock, Shock and Barrel. Once again I was surprised by my naivety when I found out that these characters were performed after the credits by the return of Danny Elfman and Catherine O’Hara as well as an actor whom I love that would be appearing on stage for the first time that evening, Paul Reubens — better known to most people as Pee-wee Herman. This was my favorite moment of the night. I love Paul Reubens and was frankly shocked that I didn’t know he was a part of this film.
The big surprise for most guests would happen after all of the Nightmare performances would end and Danny Elfman would appear back on stage with an electric guitar over his shoulder performing music that he said he would never play again decades ago. Admittedly I wasn’t quite sure what was happening but I could tell by the audience’s intense reaction that something special was about to begin. Danny Elfman performed his hit song “Dead Man’s Party” from his Oingo Boingo days before this shocked and thrilled audience. It really was a perfect way to cap off the evening even if you weren’t too familiar with Oingo Boingo. That final performance put such a great vibe into the audience that it was impossible not to feel the joy.
Overall, this certainly was a unique and special way to spend my favorite holiday. It’s always a thrill to hear a movie score played by a live orchestra and all of the added bonuses just made it even more special. The only thing that could have made it any better would have been an appearance by Tim Burton. Maybe next year.
Jeff DePaoli is an entertainer/producer living in the Southern California area. He produces and co-hosts the podcast “Dizney Coast to Coast”. Visit www.DizneyCoastToCoast.com to get your list of “America’s Hidden Mickey’s”. Play along with his “Daily Disney Decisions” every day on Periscope and on his weekly Blab game show “A Spoonful of Disney Debate”. @JeffDePaoli on Twitter/Periscope/Blab/Instagram