What's this? Your opportunity to experience a magical night before Christmas.
Composer Danny Elfman sings the songs of the mythical Jack Skellington, accompanied by a full orchestra performing his score, at two screenings of the cult-classic-turned-mainstream-darling “The Nightmare Before Christmas” live this week at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Original cast members Catherine O’Hara and Ken Page also perform for the Dec. 6 and 7 shows.
We caught up with Elfman to discuss the film’s unlikely success, his stage-fright, and his most recent work for “Justice League.”
What kind of preparation does it take to pull off something like this?
All we can really prepare for is us the singers, and I think we’re in pretty good shape. What makes it really challenging is that usually, in a film score live, in a normal score the musicians all have their parts in front of them, the conductor will count them in, and then they’re right in sync, and then they stop. In “Nightmare” there’s no such luxury. Throughout almost the entire film the music goes into each other without a break. . . . Fortunately Maustro Mauceri is really good at this.
Do you ever reflect on writing these songs?
It’s very surreal. It would be an understatement to say I never had any idea what it would be. “Nightmare” is a really, really lucky, rare creature. It was not successful when it came out. When it came out, no one understood what it was or how to market it. I was at a preview they did for kids, and it went horribly. I remember being in an elevator and hearing two executives shake their head and say “Well, it’s not for kids.”
I was really disappointed working on it for over two years. It wasn’t until years later we started getting a feeling that, you know, this thing is still alive, it’s still clinging to life. I remember being in Tokyo with Tim Burton at a “Charlie and Chocolate Factory” junket, and Tim going into a store and seeing merchandise that neither of us knew existed.
Do you enjoy performing, or do you prefer studio work?
I retired from my band in 1995, and I was not sorry I retired. I’m one of those writers who performed, not a performer who writes. I never got over stage fright, it was always there. I have a real problem with repetition, six weeks on the road and I would want to kill myself. I recently told somebody that going out on stage at Albert Hall with Elfman/Burton was harder than the time I had to jump out of the door of an airplane.
How would you describe your relationship with New York City?
New York City is absolutely unique. I told the producers, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do “Nightmare,” but we’re not done until we do New York. It’s my second home. I had a Soho loft that I tried to renovate for five years and gave up, so I never really lived there. But it’s a second home. I’ve actually listened to much more live performances in New York than in Los Angeles where I’ve been my whole life. It’s been the lion’s share of my life and music memories. It’s the only other place I can imagine calling home.
What’s it been like scoring the new “Justice League”? Do you feel any pressure from the fans?
I really set my own agenda. I really do believe that this would in fact be a nod to the fans, because I’m aware of the fact that fans love it when you give them a moment they can connect to. I don’t know why it’s so rare nowadays . . . With superheroes now, every time it goes to a reboot we have to start from scratch. To me it’s a form of arrogance, it’s like ignoring the wishes of the fan. I was aware going into “Justice League” that I wanted to make some connection with John Williams, this is DC’s past, this is Batman’s past. I wasn’t going to let my ego stop me from doing that. Joss Whedon was like, “We’re going to give them this moment here and it’s going to be great,” he loves that kind of stuff. I was grateful, because I’m right there with him.