The tuning note from the first violin was echoed by the scream from a small baby. There was the soft murmur of many different conversations. A child in the seat behind me tentatively asked his mum "Is this it?". After some hesitation, the mother replied "Shhhh." The tension crescendoed amongst those in the crowded hall, and was heightened by the dimming of the lights. Then, as if by magic, the Warner Brothers theme sounded, and all was well.
The reaction from the audience was immediate. Kids hunched forward in their seats and fixed their eyes on the 40 foot screen, oblivious to the fact that a moment ago they were wriggling around in their seat trying to unshackle themselves from the material bondage that their parents felt obliged to impose on them. Their parents, on the other hand, slumped slightly in their seat and grinned. If you could visit any of these people at their home, you would recognise that these were the same ritualistic positions which they assumed when paying homage to the television.
At first, the people watched silently, restraining any laughter; after all, we were in the Opera House. So offcourse, it is the children's innocence that saves them, as you hear a score order giggle around the hall, starting with the squeaky, rapid chuckle of pre-pubescent voices, to the rumbling of the not-so-young. Soon, the place is surrounded by uninhibited laughter, as the celebrated rabbit performed the (clichи) time honoured gags; ie conducting the orchestra in oversized tails, while trying to swat a fly with the baton.
Bugs Bunny on Broadway is a musical production that tries to incorporate music and cartoons live on stage. The idea is that while the cartoons are playing on the movie style screen, the orchestra is plying the music in perfect synchronisation. It originally started four years ago on Broadway, and there is little doubt that it has been a success. It is very fast and elaborate, and it is plain that no cost has been spared.
But for your $70 (minimum) seats, you get a show, and that's all folk's. Those hoping to broaden their musical appreciation are better off going to a shop and buying some CD's (in fact, for the price of the seats you could really broaden your musical appreciation). What you get is the same old Warner Bros cartoons, with live music. It seems to me that renting the cartoons and playing them on a TV wired up to a good sound system will do the same trick, with the added bonus of not having the kid behind you kicking the back of your chair.
This isn't to say that the music is of bad quality, it is in fact quite the contrary. The Orchestra is crammed with leading musicians from around Sydney. It achieves a brilliant tone color, especially with the wide range of percussion, which include xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, tubular bells, gong, and a drum kit that looks like a small city. The score is performed with precision and brilliance.
The problem is the score itself. The main pieces included the Barber of Seville Overture and a medley of Wagnerian Operas. Now, some may call me an exaggerated music puritan, but I belive that these should be played at their originally intended speed. But the speed in which the conductor was moving that stick seemed to indicate that he was the one trying to pulverise the fly on his music stand. I also found it troubling that the pieces were changed to the point were they became shadows of their former selves. It was hard not to grimace while the Ride of the Valkyries was over- daubed by Elmer Fudd singing " Kill da wabbitt".
But if you can manage not to cringe as these greats are torn to pieces, then the action on screen is amusing. The great thing about these cartoons is that they are pitched at two levels. While most people are laughing at the rabbit dressing up as a woman to try and seduce Elmer Fudd ( with the Barber, and later on Tannenhausen, in the background), those who know more about music will enjoy the satire and complex musical jokes.
It seems to me that the purpose for this show is to introduce the general public into classical music. It is saddening to think that people need a visual stimulus to appreciate this elegant music, but even more saddening to have the music corrupted by the vaudeville antics that go on screen. When Disney tried to attempt the same thing with Fantasia, at least they employed some taste and left the music the way it was meant to be. They did not mock the composers and they kept their images simple and fantastic, so they would represent the music. In the case of Bugs, the music only serves the purpose of background noise to help the cartoon's momentum.
Walking out of the hall I felt slightly downhearted by the music. Then while waiting outside in the lobby, I over heard many conversations that brought a smug smile on my face. Most people seemed to have enjoyed the show immensely. I heard comments like " The music was incredible!" and " This is the way classical music should be". These people seemed to have come out of the thing thinking that they were finally "cultured", and that they had heard the finest that music could offer. But how could they possibly hear the music when it was always drowned out in the gentlest and most powerful moments by their dissonant laughter?