Night of music from Tim Burton films brings ghoulish fun to Heinz Hall

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It was a Saturday night of ghouls, goblins, the Cheshire Cat, apes, a Headless Horseman and Sarah Jessica Parker's head planted on the body of a dog. What else but the spirit of Tim Burton had stopped by Heinz Hall?

Specifically, these were images from Mr. Burton's 15 film collaborations with composer Danny Elfman, and this was no typical night with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

A younger-than-usual crowd turned out for the PSO's "Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton," where conductor Ted Sperling led a guided tour of eclectic, gothic, stirring and often humorous selections.

Backed by the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, and Betsy Burleigh as director, the PSO kicked off the night with Mr. Elfman's first film score, "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." As original sketches by Mr. Burton and clips from the movie were projected on a big screen, the orchestra kept pace with the almost frenetic bounce of the work.

Many in the audience appeared to be Burton/Elfman fans and picked up immediately when the choir began the next suite with an operatic chorus of Harry Belafonte's hit, "Day-O." "Beetlejuice" -- starring Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton -- was off and running.

"Sleepy Hollow" was the first of vocal soloist Teddy Sweeney's appearances on stage. Teddy, an eighth-grader from Michigan, had a sweet, clear voice and, as Mr. Sperling joked, "drove from Detroit to be here with us tonight."

Also featured were Mark Huggins on violin and Rodrigo Ojeda, the latter presenting a surprisingly lovely piano solo during "The Corpse Bride." (Nuanced compositions tend to become overlooked when the visuals include a bunch of skeletons and a decomposing lady in a wedding dress.)

A highlight of the evening was Mr. Elfman's best-known work, "The Nightmare Before Christmas." At the sight of the title on screen, the crowd gave a cheer and soon sleigh bells were ringing on stage.

Other selections included "Edward Scissorhands," "Alice in Wonderland," "Mars Attacks!" "Big Fish" and "Batman/Batman Returns."


Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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