My story could have been called A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I understand that title has already been used. But dreamlike it was, to see an audience of nearly ten thousand people of all ages, many of them children, all drawn together under a starry sky and half moon to share an experience at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion that would bring delight to one and all. The recent event was titled BUGS BUNNY AT THE SYMPHONY, and what a symphony it would be when the renowned Houston Symphony Orchestra took to the stage to accompany what Elmer Fudd might have referred to as, “dat wascally wabbit.” Three huge movie screens would surround the audience to display some of the very best of the Warner Brothers vintage cartoons. Simultaneously, the orchestra would accompany the films with an evening of memorable musical classics. The Pavilion reportedly expected an audience of about 2500, but the enduring popularity of Bugs Bunny would quadruple that number as it united friends and families across the generations to enjoy the color, witty humor, superb animation and wonderful music that have made these cartoons classics in every sense of the word.
Even before the concert got under way there was abundant family fun out on the Pavilion plaza where youngsters could enjoy free ice cream and make their very own bunny ears.
Keeping things lively for the older set there was a fine pre-concert performance from local hero of American Idol, Will Makar, and his “Red Line” band. Shirlyn Makar, the star’s mom, had every right to be beaming with pride as the crowd roared approval of her son’s group. While chatting with her briefly after the show she kindly presented me with a copy of Will’s latest CD album, “Break Away.”
Then it was on to the main event as world-renowned conductor, George Daugherty, stepped to the podium. It was Daugherty who created, directed and conducted the Broadway musical hit, Bugs Bunny on Broadway, in 1990. Along with his producing partner, David Ka Lik Wong, he developed the new version, Bugs Bunny at the Symphony, which was launched in 2010 with twin World Premieres from both the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Hollywood Bowl in California. With darkness descending, Daugherty led the regal Overture from Franz Von Suppe’s “The Poet and the Peasant.” Composed by Hollywood legend, Max Steiner, the familiar “Warner Bros. Fanfare” that followed brought cheers of anticipation from the audience. Then the first cartoon, “Baton Bunny,” brought peals of laughter from the crowd as conductor, Bugs, chalked up his baton as though it were a cue stick for a game of pool. Next, in “Rhapsody Rabbit,” one could sense the universality of nonsense as a mouse torments Bugs while demonstrating boogie-woogie skill on the piano. The animated film, I Love to Singa, had a deliciously original “Looney Tunes” montage created by Daugherty, Wong and Scott Draper. It was highlighted by such familiar tunes, as “Would you Like to Take a Walk?” “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” and “Hello My Baby,” while opera lovers could enjoy a taste of Rossini’s Barber of Seville with the “Largo Al Factotum” from a cartoon titled, “Back Alley Oproar.” Of course the Texas audience really enjoyed the Square Dance segment from “Hillbilly Hare,” which featured music of “Skip to My Lou,” and “Turkey in the Straw,” while Bugs played the fiddle.
Time and again during the program it was fascinating to see the skillful synchronization of the orchestra with the films for such really musically complex cartoons as, “Zoom and Bored,” with its original score by Carl W. Stalling and Milt Franklyn (based on Smetana’s “Dance of the Comedians,” from The Bartered Bride). The technical skill, research and creativity involved can only be imagined.
Speaking of “The Dance of the Comedians,” following the Intermission the complete piece was performed by the orchestra with all the sweeping elegance that it deserves. With his large frame, the imposing Mr. Daugherty brought impressive grace to his work as conductor. The second part of the program featured such animated treats as “Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl,” with its music based on the Overture to “Die Fledermaus,” by Johann Strauss II. There were more creative cartoon montages by Laura Gibson and Scott Draper to celebrate both Scooby Doo and The Flintstones. As wide-eyed youngsters looked on with delight, little did they know they were being exposed to the classic music of Edvard Grieg (“In the Hall of the Mountain King”), and Jacques Offenbach (“Can-Can” from Orpheus in the Underworld).
In a cartoon titled, “Corny Concerto,” the artwork and visual fantasy of the animation seemed especially rich while accompanied by the waltz magic of the Strauss masterpiece, “The Blue Danube.” The cartoon’s graceful quacking swans at last made me realize where my brother and his granddaughter acquired the silly quacking concerto they love to sing together. There was so much more, including an amusing animated tribute to the works of Richard Wagner titled “What’s Opera, Doc?” When the orchestra played the familiar “That’s All Folks,” theme that ended so many cartoons, it seemed the special evening was over. But the perfect encore followed as maestro Daugherty conducted the finale of Rossini’s “ William Tell Overture” during the screening of the conductor’s brilliant closing montage, “The History of Warner Bros. Cartoons in Four and One Half Minutes.” Who ever knew that education could be this much fun?
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com
E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net