The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Thursday, October 27, at the Dallas Museum of Art

Every few years, 90.1 At Night's Paul Slavens charms local music fans with a special movie-related concert that would make even Cameron Crowe blush. With the help of local rockers from bands like Baboon, Mission Giant and local American Idol favorite Daron Beck, Slavens puts on infrequent live performances of his self-composed score to The Hunchback of Notre Dame; this year's was perhaps the best--and not only because of its proximity to Halloween, either. Armed with guitars, pianos, clarinets, turntables and more, the players performed against the film's action in leitmotif form--characters were assigned theme songs based on their stereotypes, so the church's archdeacon was heralded by hymn-like piano music, and the young lovers, Esmeralda and Phoebus, were greeted with a sappy love melody whenever they were together.

But the best moments on Thursday came when Slavens' score critiqued the 1923 silent film, turning a sly, modern eye on the decaying classic. Esmeralda's town square dance was accompanied by thumping dance-club beats, but even funnier was when Esmeralda and Phoebus entered a tavern and a sample of swanky bachelor pad tunes revealed Phoebus' less than honorable intentions; as he pulled her blouse off her shoulder, a guitar string slide mocked his bravado. Throughout, singer Sarah Alexander added lovers' coos, kissy noises, crazy old-maid shrieks and one (literally) goose bump-raising scream. Who would expect that a classical music-based composition of an old silent film would have the audience doubling over in laughter?

Though I expected a more rock-based score from the local indie-rock greats in the ensemble, I certainly wasn't disappointed in the wildly diverse one provided. From dark and decadent ditties for the townsfolk's revelry to the dissident and building themes as Quasimodo and other parties fought and schemed for control of Esmeralda, Slavens' score gave The Hunchback a new life that the dingy black-and-white footage couldn't.

 
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