BWW Previews: THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI at Musical Theater Heritage
We tend to think of film sound in terms of the ability to synchronize music and dialog to action on the screen began with 1927's"The Jazz Singer " starring Al Jolson. But music with film dates from much earlier. A live guitarist introduced the first film projections at Paris by the Lumiere Brothers in 1895. The following year (1896) American inventor Thomas Edison expanded on the idea by adding a full orchestra to his New York cinemas.
Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center proves again that innovation can make age-old stories new again. Following a successful test run in 2016, MTH will produce a series of classic silent films fused with new jazz accompaniments led by bassist and composer Joey Panella.
"We were playing a gig during the Olympics last year," said Panella. "The sound was on mute and we joked we could jam to the images on the screen. We laughed we could be the sound track to a silent film. Obviously, historically, there has always been live music associated with silent movies. I am most attracted to the jazz genre and I realized that we might be able to write a score to a silent movie on the spot."
With the cooperation of Tim Scott, a test event was staged in December using the 1926 American comedy "The General" starring Buster Keaton. "People were really surprised," Panella said.
The idea worked out well, but suffered disappointing attendance because of tough winter weather.
First up for musical re-interpretation in 2017 as a "Silent Movie Session" is the 1920 German expressionist horror film "The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari." There will be three performances in the MTH Studio Theater.
Stark and angular in presentation, "Dr. Caligari" was written by pacifists Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer to make a point about their experiences in "The Great War."
This earliest of the horror genre spins the tale of an insane, authoritarian hypnotist who uses a patient to unknowingly commit a series of murders under the guise of an entertainment. The story veers into a mystery story complete with a surprise ending.
Although originally filmed in black and white, the individual frames are hand tinted adding to the overall other worldliness of the piece. There have been a number of attempts to musicalize "Dr. Caligari" including at least one opera. This production will feature on an instant original score. Each performance will be similar but individual from its brothers.
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" has six acts," said Panella. "I'll write some overarching themes for each section and our jazz group will riff off the film that we'll be seeing at the same time as the audience," he said. "The ability to have eye contact between the players is very important."
The jazz quartet performing alongside "Dr. Caligari" will be leader and bassist Joey Panella, Nate Nall on brass, Eddie Moore on keyboards, and Brian Steever on percussion.
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari will be performed on Friday March 31 at 7:00 p.m. and twice on Saturday April 1, at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available on the Musical Theater Heritage website or by telephone at 816-221-6987.
Photos courtesy of Musical Theater Heritage