REVIEW: Danny Elfman concert shines at Lincoln Center Festival

NEW YORK — Danny Elfman is one of the most prolific and successful film composers of all time. His cinematic scores are legendary and recognizable to anyone who has been awake the past 30 years. From Edward Scissorhands to Batman to this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, his catalog is long and varied. His most popular music comes from his collaborations with the equally prolific director Tim Burton. Lincoln Center Festival, the annual summertime fest of theater, dance and music, is currently staging Elfman’s music from Burton’s films. The concert, which runs through Sunday, July 12, is a beautiful evening of sound and spectacle.

The orchestra and chorus for the concert fill the stage of Avery Fisher Hall with little extra room. Their conductor is John Mauceri, who has a lot of fun with the suites, even offering a few vocal surprises along the way. The selections come from most of the Elfman-Burton songbook. Accompanying the sound are visuals of Burton’s animation and scenes from the iconic movies.

Act I, running one hour, features music from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks!, Big Fish and an extended showcase for Batman/Batman Returns. Of these selections, Big Fish and the Batmans sound the best. Big Fish has a quieter, almost somber tone, especially compared to the bombast of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Mars Attacks! Beetlejuice, met with enthusiastic applause, was recognizable and even included a small “Day-O” section from the chorus.

Danny Elfman's Music From the Films of Tim Burton plays through Sunday, July 12 at Avery Fisher Hall. Photo courtesy of Lincoln Center Festival.
Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton plays through Sunday, July 12 at Avery Fisher Hall. Photo courtesy of Lincoln Center Festival.

The Batman Act I finale is a highlight. Besides the popular theme song, which accompanies images of the bat signal, many characters also receive symphonic spotlights, including Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns. This is triumphant, confident music, full of sweeping strings and pounding percussion.

The best selections are saved for Act II. In addition to Planet of the Apes (militaristic) and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride there’s Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie (a surprisingly effective suite). These are mere prologues for the most popular pairing of the night: Edward Scissorhands, featuring a violin solo by Sandy Cameronand Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. For this latter entry, Elfman himself graces the stage to sing the catchy tunes (he sang the part of Jack Skellington in the movie). The composer is a rousing performer, coupling spot-on vocals with an exuberant stage presence. At one point he was bouncing across the stage as the orchestra accompanied his every step. Ingrid Michaelson and other singers helped Elfman with a few of the tunes as well.

The evening finishes with Alice in Wonderland and an encore featuring yet another wonderful tune from Nightmare.

The audience, clearly consisting of Elfman converts, eats up the cinematic and musical offerings. This evening offers a glimpse into the minds of not one but two legendary film presences. Their collaboration over the past 30 years has produced so many gems that it’s difficult to fit everything into one evening. The Lincoln Center Festival has started its annual summer offering on the right foot.

By John Soltes / Publisher /

  • Click here for more information on Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton. The concert plays New York City’s Avery Fisher Hall through Sunday, July 12.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at, among other publications. E-mail him at

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