Review: National Symphony Orchestra: Dreamworks Animation in Concert at Wolf Trap

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After reviewing productions for a number of years, a “critic” like myself can usually come to rely on certain venues for consistent, professional entertainment. Wolf Trap is a spectacular venue and I always enjoy myself when I’m there, but I especially jump at the chance to review a “movie night” lead by the National Symphony Orchestra whenever they pop up on their schedule. It started when I asked to review Back to the Future because the film was an old favorite of mine. I had such a thrilling time that I decided to review Star Trek, even though I had never seen any of the Star Trek movies or television shows before that. When I found myself just as enthralled in a genre I wasn’t familiar with (for Star Trek fans, you may want to check out their upcoming show Star Trek: Into Darkness— I’ve already booked my tickets!), I knew this partnership was something intensely special.

Dreamworks Shrek

And so, when I saw that Wolf Trap was presenting National Symphony Orchestra: Dreamworks Animation in Concert, I jumped for the chance to review it. Conductor/Composer Justin Freer lead the 98-piece orchestra onstage as they performed live scores from a medley of popular Dreamworks movie scenes. This was a bit different from the average movie night– instead of one full-length movie, an assortment of favorite scenes from many different Dreamworks films were spliced together. While I’ll admit that I much prefer the full-length film projects (having a single plot to follow made for a richer, more fulfilling evening, in my opinion), a study of animation and composition through Dreamworks films made for a great night of entertainment as well.

Stating that they are beginning their season with a “menagerie of talkative wild beats” (and then joking that no, this isn’t a presidential debate!), the NSO begins with an opening medley, with scenes from films such as Over the Hedge, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman. The orchestration is so perfectly timed that one forgets the music itself is even live–that is, until they look down and see a stage-full of people playing their instruments together. The effect is truly impressive.

Certain movies have more focus than others, like  Kung Fu Panda, where the scene “Training Po” had the young audience laughing along as Po and his Kung Fu Master battle (quite literally) over a dumpling. “Boats of Ra” from Mr. Peabody and Sherman showcase a risky escape, as the characters quickly weave their way through a barrage of ancient Egyptian booby traps. Several scenes from Rise of the Guardians were included, ranging from quick, playful music from the cheerful scene “Wind…Take Me Home” to the slow and deep “Chasing the Nightmares.” The scenes were cut together beautifully, and all of the dialogue was heard crystal clear over the massive orchestra– pretty impressive!

Multiple scenes from Shrek, Madagascar, and How to Train Your Dragon followed, as well as scenes from many other movies. I’ll admit that out of this extensive list of films, I had only seen one (Shrek), but that didn’t stop me from enjoying and understanding the themes and tones presented. Similar topics were lumped together, such as friendship in a segment called “Laugh Together” and a medley of different rescue efforts in “Friends are Family,” among other things. While not a full-length feature film, this was a celebration of animation itself, and of the exhaustive teamwork that partners animation and music. Music makes a film multi-dimensional, and lends invaluable richness to both characters and plot.

What the National Symphony Orchestra is doing with these film projects is not only incredibly entertaining– it’s smart. By providing a live score to films that are loved by all kinds of people, they are reaching a far greater audience. This includes myself, who otherwise likely wouldn’t have given an NSO event too much thought. It would have been my own loss.

Wolf Trap and the NSO’s production of National Symphony Orchestra: Dreamworks Animation in Concert made for a fantastic night of family-friendly entertainment. If this sounds like something you would like, then you shouldn’t miss their upcoming NSO production Disney in Concert, which will showcase beloved Disney stories and characters through live music. They also have a production of Raiders of the Lost Ark coming up, which will make for a perfect date night! 

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

National Symphony Orchestra: Dreamworks Animation in Concert was performed on Thursday, June 30th 2016 at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts 1635 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. To see a list of upcoming events at Wolf Trap and to purchase tickets, go to their calendar of events.

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