Romantics, music-lovers and film nuts gathered at the Meyerson this weekend when Dallas Symphony Orchestra presented an unconventional screening of Casablanca. It's a project that DSO Pops Conductor Laureate, Richard Kaufman loves, you can tell by the enthusiastic "movie facts" he delivered to the crowd before the camera rolled. It works like this: a retouched version of the classic Bogart/Bergman love story is projected above the stage with Max Steiner's original score removed. The DSO then played it live, gracefully ushering in every last pop from the tympani that is smothered out when watching the film at home on TCM.
The effect added an exceptional liveliness to the gin-swigging scenes at Rick's, as the orchestra filled out Sam's piano odes we were left swimming in Bergman's perpetually watery eyes. I'd love to see DSO work this same backtrack angle with other movies (Star Wars would be triumphant!). But on its next effort the show should be held somewhere else.
While the Meyerson is the perfect venue for the orchestral portions, its acoustics weren't designed for amplified sound. This caused the movie's dialog to become jumbled and mushy -- tinny, even. It took a little getting used to, especially in crowded scenes. Once I was finally able to fall into lockstep with the scripted portions the intermission occurred, which felt unnecessary. Clocking in at just over 100 minutes, Casablanca doesn't need a break. After the awkward time gap I had to retrain myself in picking out the film's prose, rather than easily enjoying the production.
Technical issues aside, it's efforts like this one that will continue to introduce DSO to a new generation of listeners who feel daunted by an evening at the symphony. I hope they don't allow those little hiccups to keep them from attempting similar ventures at other venues. Especially if those "other ventures" feature light sabers.