Adelaide Festival: Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton

Danny Elfman. Photo by Paul Sanders, Adelaide Festival of Arts
Danny Elfman. Photo by Paul Sanders, Adelaide Festival of Arts

Names like Danny Elfman and Tim Burton are gold for the Adelaide Festival; they draw in mainstream audiences who normally wouldn’t touch the festival with a ten-foot barge pole, while the presence of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Festival’s seal of approval, draws in the Festival regulars. With such a large and diverse audience, you would hope the show was impressive – luckily, it was.

To celebrate a long and successful working relationship with director and animator, Tim Burton, Elfman has launched a tour featuring symphonic renditions of the scores from their most popular films. Ranging from crowd favourites like Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas to the cult classic Mars Attacks!, the show reminds audiences of the versatility and flexibility of the duo.

The impressive performance by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and conductor John Mauceri is accompanied by rare concept art by Burton, as well as scenes from the films to accompany each score. Even for those who are not passionate about music, watching the fascinating evolution of Burton’s work from doodles into large-scale movie scenes, particularly in visually impressive films such as Batman Begins, is engrossing enough to keep you interested. It also provides context for those who have not seen the films being featured, some of which are rarely screened or talked about.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra take the often-challenging, constantly changing score excerpts of Elfman in their stride, working comfortably with touring conductor Mauceri despite their short rehearsal time under his leadership. The wide range of unusual percussion instruments and sound effects seemed to pose little challenge to the symphony, and its emotive performance had the audience feeling as if they were watching Burton’s films all over again.

[pull_left]When Elfman himself enters the stage in the second act, he is greeted with rapturous applause, and with good reason[/pull_left]

The Adelaide Festival Chorus and its smaller quartet (who accompany Elfman during selections from Nightmare Before Christmas) are proficient and add an extra level of feeling to many of the pieces, whether they are wailing wordlessly like the wind in Edward Scissorhands or playing the plethora of peculiar personalities in Nightmare Before Christmas. Although they are perhaps not up to the standard of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in terms of timing and pitch, with such heavy accompaniment this is not hugely noticeable.

When Elfman himself enters the stage in the second act, he is greeted with rapturous applause, and with good reason – his physical, bold performance as Jack Skellington is easily one of the most entertaining parts of the show and his joy and humour is contagious. Elfman performs with guest performer Bertie Blackman, who is an unexpected choice; while her lack of classical vocal training and her lower range make her an awkward fit for the character of Sally, her soft, pop vocals are commendable in and of themselves.

A surprise favourite for the audience (and, by the looks of it, the chorus) was guest violin soloist Sandy Cameron. Cameron’s outstanding technical proficiency is obvious, but what quickly won the audience over was her personality – grooving across the stage, throwing her head back with emotion and clearly putting every ounce of herself into her performance, her style is unique and invigorating to watch.

Experiencing fifteen films in three hours is usually pretty tricky, but this Adelaide Festival offering gives its audience just that; after going on fifteen different emotional, filmic journeys with dozens of talented musicians, you’ll question why you bother going to the movies at all.

Paige Mulholland

Paige Mulholland is an Adelaide based writer, reviewer and perpetual volunteer for all things artsy in Adelaide. She has a double degree in International Relations and Journalism, and and writes for Adelaide Theatre Guide and ArtsHub as well as In her spare time, she takes classes in dance, voice and theatre, and sometimes has deep philosophical discussions with her cats.

Paige Mulholland

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