On October 31, 2015, I was lucky enough to attend Danny Elfman’s Halloween at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The event was the first of its kind and an amazing experience. Thousands of people flocked to the Hollywood Bowl on Halloween night to see a screening of the 1993 classic The Nightmare Before Christmas with all music performed live. Both the instrumental portions as well as the vocals of the characters were all performed live as the film played.
When entering the Hollywood Bowl, my wife and I were surrounded by thousands of fans dressed up for the holiday; many of which were costume inspired by the films of Tim Burton. We walked into the venue and saw balloons featuring Jack Skellington and Oogie Boogie throughout. In addition, there were merchandise tents as well as various trick or treat tents where staff members handed out candy to those who wanted to get a little trick or treating in before the show. There were even backdrops setup for fans who wanted to take photos in their costumes with a cool Nightmare Before Christmas backdrop in the background.
Being at the Hollywood Bowl on Halloween night with thousands of die-hard Elfman and Burton fans was a special experience that I will never forget. As someone who grew up with the film and has watched it every year since its release in 1993, attending this event was a dream come true to put it lightly. I went to see this not knowing what to expect but it was so much better than I ever could have imagined. At the event, Elfman was accompanied by an entire orchestra and conductor John Mauceri. During the film’s first vocal number, I began to tear up as I watched four vocalists sing This is Halloween before Danny Elfman made his way onto the stage to sing Jack’s Lament. There was just something so unique about the experience that it took me back to 1993 when I saw the film for the first time.
During the first few musical numbers, my eyes were pretty much glued to the stage and not focused on the film itself, but as the night went on, I began to watch the film to see if those singing were on point with the characters that they were suppose to be singing as. What made the night even more special was that Danny Elfman arranged that all the main voice actors from the film attended the event to sing their characters’ songs live. Ken Page who voiced the character Oogie Boogie came on stage to sing the Oogie Boogie Song followed by Catherine O’Hara who sang Sally’s Song. All the actors were absolutely magnificent singing as their vocals matched their characters on-screen flawlessly.
When the film came to a close, Elfman and O’Hara took to the stage for what the audience believed was the final song of the evening as they sung the film’s finale together. At this point, I thought to myself, “wow, that was such a great and unique way to spend Halloween,” but to my surprise there was much more to see.
Elfman, the entire vocal cast, and orchestra bowed after the film credits and exited the stage. Moments later, Elfman came back on stage to announce he wanted to reprise some other musical moments from the film. This is when Paul Reubens and Catherine O’Hara came out to sing one of my personal favorites, Kidnap Mr. Sandy Claus. The crowd went wild and loved seeing the three perform together. In addition to being a life long fan of Nightmare, I am also a die-hard fan of Pee-Wee Herman so at this point, it was sort of a surreal experience for me. I think it is also kind of bittersweet to hear an entire audience at a venue like the Hollywood Bowl scream “Pee-Wee! Pee-Wee!” as Reubens walked onto and off the stage.
If this unique performance wasn’t enough, it was followed up by Elfman’s own unique version of the Oogie Boogie song that he sung with Mauceri who played the role of Sandy Claus. After these fantastic surprises, I was sure that event was over because what else was possibly left to be sung or said. I was wrong again.
After Elfman exited the stage for the second time that evening, he returned for a third time doing something truly different and not Nightmare related at all. This time around, Elfman took to the stage to sing the most famous Oingo Boingo song: Dead Man’s Party. Joined by Steve Bartek, the original guitarist for Oingo Boingo, Elfman and Bartek performed the song together. This was such a great way to close out an already perfect Halloween. Why was this final performance such a great way to end the night you may ask? Well, die-hard Elfman fans love Oingo Boingo and seeing Elfman perform this song live was something that hasn’t been seen by anyone in exactly 20 years.
As for the film itself, it holds up extremely well especially since it turned 22 years old this year. The stop-motion animation still manages to impress me and the story, characters, and music are just as memorable today as they were 22 years ago. What I love the most about the Nightmare Before Christmas is the fact that the film was once something of a hidden treasure that only over the past 10 or so years has become a well known cult classic. I remember seeing the film in theaters and remember it not doing so well. In fact, the film only made 50 million dollars during its original theatrical run. Considering how long it took to make the film which was a work in a progress for over 10 years that was not a great return especially with how much hard work and passion went into it.
My only complaints about the evening had nothing to do with the show itself but rather the venue. As a life-long Nightmare/Elfman fan, I wanted to be as close as possible to the stage so I purchased Pool seats which is the section right in front of the stage. The way that the televisions were setup did not allow for those sitting in this section to get a good view of the film and the seats were way too cramped together. I found it very strange that the most expensive seats in the entire arena had the worst view of the film and seats were folding chairs while the garden area and terrace area were all director type chairs. I hope that if this event is done again, they put a screen above the orchestra, remove the two side tripods that blocked those sitting on the sides to see the performers on the stage, replace the folding chairs with director chairs, and limit the amount of people who can sit in the area to make it more comfortable for those in the section. I realize this is the first time something like this was done at the Bowl but those are my suggestions to make it even better the next time around.
Overall, this was an incredible event that I will remember for the rest of my life. I can only hope that the Hollywood Bowl does the event again and again in the years to come. This is definitely my preferred way to spend my Halloween night.