Rating: 5/5

Strolling onto the stage in full Jack Skellington costume, and with a plushie of dog Zero in-tow, Resident Conductor Christopher James Lee welcomed attendees to the first Charlotte Symphony Orchestra movie performance in two years. It was clear that he had a personal stake in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Sure enough, his Charlotte Symphony bio shares that he is an avid reader, adventurer and proud father of a six-year-old son.

Fans were also encouraged to wear their spookiest outfits, a challenge that many young theatergoers were more than happy to accept. There were little boys in devil masks and older women in Sally dresses. Families coordinated clothes so that one troupe arrived with the father dressed as Skellington, the mother as Sally, the oldest boy as Lock, the girl as a pumpkin, and the youngest, probably no more than two years old, as Zero.

The air in the Belk Theatre was warm, and the orchestra spilled across the stage, tuning their instruments. Violin sounds fluttered to the highest point up in the grand tier mezzanine. The harpists plucked and strummed, preparing themselves for Skellington’s tumble through the magical Christmas door. Many people consider this film to be a childhood staple, and this live performance was nostalgia at its finest.

For those born around the 1990s, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was enjoyed on VHS tape and DVD, but never in theaters. So this was an incredibly unique opportunity to enjoy the film as director Henry Selick intended. At critical moments, the cellos would go still, and the conductor would eagerly monitor the small screen in front of him as the audience, with bated breath, unblinkingly watched the large film screen at the heart of the stage.

The music would swell, and the children in the sideways box seats would crane their heads out, reaching towards the familiar melodies. It was easy to forget that everything was unfolding in real-time. When Lock, Shock and Barrel sang “Kidnap the Sandy Claws,” the piano accompanied them on their mischievous journey. During “Sally’s Song,” the conductor’s baton guided the audience through her grief and worry.

There is something to be said of the intentionality behind this experience. Going to the movies usually means that you don’t know what you will get. But returning to the theatre and seeing “The Nightmare Before Christmas” dance across the screen is like visiting an old friend. The run-time for the Symphony performance is a bit longer than the actual film because it allows for a twenty-minute intermission halfway through. The orchestra plays through the end credits, so make sure to stay put and give the crew a hand at the very end of the show.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was no food or drink allowed inside the theatre, and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra required that all attendees have either a negative COVID test or take their vaccine card with them. As with most events geared towards kids, this show wasn’t taking any chances. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra also refused to put their Musical Director, Christopher Warren-Green, in harm’s way. Their 2021-2022 season will be Warren-Green’s last as Musical Director.

However, there are more than a few film accompaniments to catch before his time with the Symphony Orchestra is up. Sadly, Halloween is over, and the Pumpkin King has hung up his pumpkin head for the year. But, as most department stores have made abundantly clear, Christmas is well on its way. “Home Alone” will be returning to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra stage just in time for the holidays. Invite your family to visit the symphony with you if you want to get in the holly-jolly spirit. It’s not the same classic music you may have been forced to “experience” in middle school. These performances aren’t just drums and violas; they’re fantasy, adventure and immersion into your favorite story.

The upcoming film accompaniment shows are: “Home Alone in Concert” on Nov. 26 and 27, 2021, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in Concert” on March 18 and 19, 2022, and “Jurassic Park in Concert” on June 24 and 25, 2022.

nightmare before christmas photo

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