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BWW REVIEW: WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS: A DECADE IN CONCERT at Kennedy Center

BWW REVIEW: WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS: A DECADE IN CONCERT at Kennedy Center
The NSO's Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Any one of us that has ever seen an animated feature or short produced by the Walt Disney Animation Studios knows that the music is always a big component in making the film a success. Let's face it, aren't you all still singing "Let it Go" from Frozen even though the film is now five years old? Songs like that one and classics like "Heigh Ho" and "A Whole New World" are etched in our collective memories for a lifetime.

Any Disney film is made up of more than just the songs, however. It always includes a full orchestral underscore that's - more often than not - written by one of the top film composers of the day. Alan Menken did all of his own scoring for his megahit films like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. In the case of Moana, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others wrote the songs and Mark Mancina provided the orchestral scoring.

This past weekend Washington DC's living musical treasure the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) presented a concert to bring the orchestral scoring of a Disney film to the forefront. As always, Maestro Steven Reineke and company did not disappoint. The program, entitled Walt Disney Animation Studios: A Decade in Concert - itself a new product from Disney - covered scores from 2008 to present. As extended animation sequences from each film were projected on a screen upstage, the ensemble played an extended suite of music from said each film.

Starting things off was Alan Menken's 2010 film Tangled. You might remember this was a new take on the story of the really long blond-haired girl named Rapunzel. There is a reason why Alan Menken has survived all these years in an ever-changing Hollywood climate. As with Tangled and all of his other films Menken captures the mood of each scene with class and grace.

Mark Mancina's work for Moana (2016) demonstrates how a composer can perfectly match the location of his or her film with underscoring. His score features lots of island drum and other percussion instruments.

Randy Newman's work for The Princess and the Frog in 2009 is infused with southern charm, blues, Dixieland and more. It evokes the atmosphere of the bayou perfectly.

The composer Henry Jackman was represented three times in this concert, but the one that stuck out for me was for Wreck It Ralph. The 2012 film focused on a video game character and the score sounds exactly like you are playing one. To show you how versatile Jackman is as a composer, he was also represented by Big Hero 6 (2014) and Winnie the Pooh (2011).

Look no farther than the quiet country sounds of John Powell's scoring for Bolt (2008) to the sounds of a driving metropolis in Michael Giacchino's work for Zootopia (2016) for a study in contrasts in scoring for Disney films.

I cannot leave out Christophe Beck's music for Frozen by any stretch. Beginning with the strains of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" (solo by Concertmaster Ricardo Cyncynates), the score just keeps building and building. The story of Elsa and Anna is audibly captured at every musical turn.

What better way to end this concert than with an "Animontage" of what made Disney animation great, with music composed by Christophe Beck and a video montage compiled by David Bess? It featured animation from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the present.

This concert is sure to be performed by many symphonies across the country and around the world, but Disney made the right decision to have the NSO premiere it. Between Maestro Steven Reineke's warm personality and top conducting skills, hearing the music played by the mighty NSO and watching the work of the thousands of artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios: A Decade in Concert was the perfect way to start off the holiday season here in the DC area.

Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.

Walt Disney Animation Studios: A Decade in Concert was a three-night engagement from November 23 to 25, 2018 in the Concert Hall at Kennedy Center. For info on future NSO offerings, click here.

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