Thursday, October 22, 2009

Concert review: "Star Wars: In Concert" brings The Force to the Ford Center

By Brandy McDonnell - Entertainment Writer -    Comments Comment on this article1
Published: October 22, 2009

From the familiar opening fanfare to the thunderous “Imperial March,” “Star Wars: In Concert” packed in enough memorable, goosebump-inducing moments to fill a Super Star Destroyer.


An odd but entertaining mix of orchestral performance, laser light show and motion picture montage, the concert Wednesday night thrilled fans of George Lucas’ iconic films and proved just how hollow and unremarkable those movies would be without John Williams’ indelible scores.
The show brought an estimated 8,000 followers of the space saga to the Ford Center, leaving a surprising number of empty seats in the arena. The multigenerational crowd ranged from middle-aged concert-goers dressed for a night at the symphony to children and young adults disguised as Darth VaderPrincess Leia or Stormtroopers.
Fans who got there early were able to tour a special exhibit featuring pages of Williams’ hand-written sheet music, conceptual renderings and full costumes for Chewbacca, C-3PO, Darth Vader and more.
The multimedia event was clearly aimed at true-blue fans of the sci-fi saga, offering a new way to enjoy the resonant tale of good and evil, Jedi and droids, light sabers and Death Stars.
The show opened in grand fashion, with a white sheet still concealing the massive stage as the lights dimmed suddenly and the orchestra launched into the “Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare.” The shadowy players were revealed when the curtain dramatically dropped away and the symphony stormed into the magnificent “Star Wars Theme.”
Scenes and characters from all six films — “Episode I — The Phantom Menace” (1999), “Episode II — Attack of the Clones” (2002), “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (2005), “Episode IV — A New Hope” (1977), “Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” (1983) — intermingled on the three-story-tall LED screen.
Darth Vader’s well-known rasp of breath preceded James Earl Jones’ pre-recorded introduction of the show’s narrator, Anthony Daniels, who played prim protocol droid C-3PO in all six movies.
Decked out in a dashing black suit rather than his robotic alter ego’s golden armor, the British actor proved a warm and welcoming host and engaging storyteller.
The spectacle, which ran two hours with a 20-minute intermission, paid tribute to the beloved characters and told the heroic tale in roughly chronological order. The performance was divided into segments with titles like “Dark Forces Conspire,” “A Hero Rises” and “A Bond Unbroken,” and Daniels suavely set the stage for each one.
But he also showed off a sharp sense of humor: Before the orchestra played the drolly atmospheric “The Desert/The Robot Auction,” he effusively praised C-3PO’s sensitivity, intelligence and engineering until conductor Mark Watters silenced him with a pointed look and an eye roll. And the actor introduced “The Asteroid Field” by flashing his golden vest, slipping into 3PO’s high-pitched voice and declaring “The possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.”
“Of course, some people never want you to tell them odds,” he quipped, quoting from “Empire Strikes Back.”
While light saber clashes, space battles and galactic romances from the films played out in high-definition, the orchestra stayed in sync with the onscreen action and did justice to the bold percussion, striking horns and scintillating strings of Williams’ scores.
Watters, along with many in the audience, couldn’t help bopping along as the musicians blasted out the jazzy “Cantina Band,” the signature song of the Mos Eisley Spaceport house band. While movie clips and conceptual art of the cantina’s bizarre alien clientele filled the screen, the playful music transported young and old alike back to the first time they visited the saga’s “wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
The instrumentalists then wrung raw emotion from the solemn ode “The Death of Yoda,” while the choir’s voices soared with eerie splendor on “Duel of the Fates.”
The music was effectively augmented with a variety of visual effects. The second half of the show opened with a dazzling array of green lasers. Plumes of flame burst up from the stage as “Battle of the Heroes” took the fight between former allies Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi to the volcanic planet of Mustafar. Columns of steam accompanied the villain’s mechanical breathing on “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)”
When the crowd heralded the end of the show with a standing ovation and raucous cheers, the orchestra, in Daniels’ words, returned the audience to the Dark Side, performing the dramatic march one more time.
The concert occasionally used too much film dialogue, and sometimes the words were drowned out by the loud music. Sound effects such as swooping light sabers and tromping Stormtroopers could have added more excitement to the sci-fi adventure.
But “Star Wars: In Concert” emerged as strong in The Force, presenting a story that has already been related in six films, an animated series and countless toys in a wonderfully fresh way.

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