STAR WARS: IN CONCERT
Saturday 3rd April to Sunday 4th April 2010
At the O2 Arena, London Docklands
Music by John Williams. Conducted by Dirk Brosse and played by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
Produced by ANOTHER PLANET TOURING and LUCASFILM LTD
A review of the Saturday 3rd April show- 3pm performance- by Scott Weller
Now with a revised and more straightforward title so as to not confuse North American audiences (as to what kind of event they’d be watching), STAR WARS: IN CONCERT (originally known in the UK by the far more title satisfying STAR WARS: A MUSICAL JOURNEY) made a triumphant return this Easter weekend to its original 2009 London launch base, at the Docklands O2 Arena. A relaxed and more confident Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, after a year of touring Europe with this prestigious and classy show, played with great exuberance and clearly enjoyed their work bringing multiple Academy Award winner John Williams beautiful but also complex and nuanced score to continued live audience life, exceeding such a positive challenge and thriving in its versatile depths of musical storytelling, sounding out against a visual cornucopia playing on one of the biggest LED display screens ever seen in the world.
Williams skillfully created, everlasting music continues to exert its magnetic, and highly magical, influence over the worlds of both STAR WARS and popular film music like no other composer of his generation, his STAR WARS music in particular appealing to all ages with its power to amaze and impress, and conveying even greater humanity and spirit than ever before alongside George Lucas’s evocative imagery. With little rehearsal time with their original first concerts last year, the Philharmonic had done very well against tight odds, but now, one year on in playing the material, these guys and gals delivered a wonderful, far more polished performance, notable examples on display being Darth Vader’s IMPERIAL MARCH, the breezy and whirlwind-like THE ASTEROID CHASE music from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (a worthy choice for the film’s Thirtieth Anniversary this year), RETURN OF THE JEDI’s rich and depthful BATTLE FOR THE SANCTUARY MOON, the cheery Cantina Band theme (with its wide ranging use of percussion and jazz) from STAR WARS, the romantic but tragic ACROSS THE STARS from EPISODE II, and, one of my own personal favourites, EPISODE III’s chilling, battle ominous A HERO FALLS. Other beautiful, subtle themes for iconic characters like Princess Leia and Yoda have also never sounded better in live form, too. The only piece of music that no orchestra besides the original composer and LSO seems to be able to handle properly, however, or capture the original feel of, is BEN’S DEATH AND TIE FIGHTER ATTACK music from STAR WARS (used here for a sequence linked to the Rebels fighting back against the Empire) – the composition and orchestra delivery always seems to be too slow-these same results happened again after the Royal Philharmonic’s slight disappointment with the piece last year. Linked to that, there were still the occasional, but unavoidable, little glitches where noted Belgian conductor Dirk Brosse had to speed up or slow the orchestra down a little to match the clips, but this is unavoidable with a production of such large scale and ambition- very minor quibbles, though. All in all, combined with the return of Brosse’s equally enthusiastic and professional conducting skills, this was a vivacious and positively life-affirming realization of the original score work from both Williams and the LSO that I think they should all be very proud of.
And with this heart warming combination of sound and pictures, there's still nothing like seeing the STAR WARS movies, even in clips form, on a big screen in front of a huge audience- a very palpable collective adrenaline rush can be felt from watching scenes of high action, romance, danger and laughter from a galaxy far, far away and a long time ago, in a way that will linger on in the hearts and minds of viewers forever. Amongst the on-screen visual delights, it was nice to see the new CGI Yoda material, created by Rob Coleman and ILM for an eventual DVD/ Blu-ray re-release of EPISODE I, being added to the concert footage (apparently at George Lucas’s request after the he saw the first London concert a year ago), and I’m sure there were even more slightly revised tinkerings with regards to some of the effects footage shown (though I may be wrong- seeing the footage on the big, big screen can play tricks on my visual senses after years seeing it widescreen on TV’s far too small to do the series the full cinematic justice it deserves), as was the possibility of some additional integrated footage for the re-branded concert that I didn’t recall seeing before.
The man behind the golden protocol droid, C-3PO, Anthony Daniels (once again introduced on stage by James Earl Jones’s mighty, resonant voice) continued to be a fine host for the event-his unique contributions to all six STAR WARS films and beyond more than making him deserving of the shows title as uber narrator and guide through the amazing, galaxy spanning events of the fantasy series, only this time deliberately amping up his performance for the almost Saturday matinee-like crowd of younger audience members in this afternoon edition of the concert, something the kids clearly enjoyed as they waved their green STAR WARS lanyard light pens proudly through the air to match the on-screen lightsaber duels and laser hologram lights that burst through the arena at various intervals. Though a little muted at first in their clapping and cheering, their affection for STAR WARS and Daniels (wearing his fan favourite gold waistcoat with pride), was soon more than evident – I got a clear demonstration of this, and the power of what was displayed on screen, and on stage in front of me, with some eager young kids to my opposite right swinging their hands and arms about in a frenetic and excited fashion in time with their favourite music, their conducting glee and ambition clearly on their faces, hoping to be the next John Williams’s!! This was a real love of STAR WARS shining brighter than ever.
In general, I find it incredible to see how knowledgable these young fans actually are about the series and characters- some not even old enough to have been born when the first Prequels were in cinemas, let alone the Classic Trilogy!! Its always nice to see this next generation of little STAR WARS fans at these kind of events, all wearing their Jedi or Clone Trooper costumes in true spiritual celebration of the saga, and all with proud picture taking parents equally enjoying the nostalgic family spirit/atmosphere in a way that no other film series can capture. In addition to the spotlight music there was also a very small (compared to last year) selection of original props, replica props and interactive displays direct from LUCASFILM, though I have to say that their inter-spreading through the outside ring area of the concert venue, due to space restrictions and other prior bookings from outside entertainment sources, was very disappointing in comparison to the previous years better displayed affair, when they had been on the O2’s Ground floor area and enjoyed not just by fans but other general members of the public, too.
But forgetting the lack of props, it’s the music, above all else, that people want to hear and enjoy. And, in that respect, STAR WARS: IN CONCERT proudly and joyously entertained us all in its two hour plus duration that certainly left the audience wanting more, and that’s exactly what was delivered when Brosse and his orchestra came back to the stage and expertly delivered an encore performance of THE IMPERIAL MARCH that was just as good as the one they had performed earlier in the day. The Force was still with them, and mightier than ever!!
A huge worldwide success, and deservedly so, we’re sure it won’t be too long, and in the not too distant future, before STAR WARS: IN CONCERT returns to music venues and delights us all over again.
I’ll see you in the line!