Star Wars In Concert at Nassau Coliseum

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Star Wars In Concert is a paradox. It’s triumph of style over substance, even though the substance is … well … rather substantial. It’s a carefully crafted production based on a premise that was not especially well-thought out. And its singularly most memorable performance is from one of the least charismatic figures in the entire saga. The show is certainly an experience … but I’d hesitate to call it an experience one must not miss. This was, in essence, a live performance of the Star Wars Musical Journey, available since the release of Revenge of the Sith. All told, it was fun … but not exactly exceptional.

Star Wars In Concert is modeled around a series of concert arrangements of specific tracks from John Williams’ incomparable Star Wars soundtracks. In essence, it’s a bit like a “Greatest Hits” concert, showcasing what should be the most memorable and most indelible musical moments from the saga. In fact, for anyone who purchased the Revenge of the Sith CD soundtrack at the time of the release, and received the Star Wars Musical Journey DVD, the concert footage and arrangements are all-too-familiar. In fact, Star Wars In Concert is little more than a live presentation of the DVD.

And as enjoyable as this sounds in concept, the execution just doesn’t live up to expectation. But by focusing on specific tracks, the show effectively eschews the most memorable moments in favor of concert arrangements which, while enjoyable, give the experience a disjointed and unfocused feeling.  More problematic are the artistic choices surrounding the presentation of the music itself.

For instance, the production begins with the iconic 20th Century Fox fanfare, leading into the thunderous Main Title of the Star Wars saga. It’s a crowd pleaser and, when accompanied by a video montage of the most iconic moments of the saga, it’s pure magic. And yet …

And yet, before the piece s is finished, the on-screen images abruptly shifts to live footage of the orchestra. I completely understand wanting to showcase the performers for such a large-scale production. But the moment has significant potential to pull viewers completely out of the experience. And instead of immersing the audience into the rich tapestry of the sights and sounds of Star Wars, the production reminds everyone that this is, after all, a Big. Damn. Show. and they’d better remember that fact.

It’s a shame because, as a point of fact, the live performers are simply fantastic. Their renditions of the classic Star Wars score are impeccable. Really, the music itself is phenomenal. And yet just about every element of the show seems intended to distract the audience from the music – including shots of the musicians themselves. Some of the footage seems distractingly juxtaposed (such as secondary shots of Obi-Wan chasing Jango Fett through the asteroids of Geonosis during Anakin’s Theme).

Also …

One of the most enjoyable elements of the concert happened to be the narration from Anthony Daniels, aka C-3PO. I’ve been no great fan of Mr. Daniels over the years. But I’m happy to concede that his “performance” as narrator is quite a bit of fun. Indeed, his introductions prove to be quite exceptional. And yet … once again, Star Wars In Concert borrows heavily from the Musical Journey DVD … including the exact narration spoken by Mr. Daniels, delivered by Ian McDiarmid on the DVD itself.

And so, the very fiber of this show is predicated not on some new ideas, but on repackaging old ones. This is a show that might be enjoyable for the younger crowd, or for those not already familiar with the Musical Journey DVD. Even at that, though, audience members will have to overcome the decisions to showcase style over substance.

So what were the highlights?  Well, the real crowd pleasers were the renditions of the “Main Title,” “Duel of the Fates,” “Imperial March,” and the “Forest Battle Concert Suite” (featured on the Return of the Jedi soundtrack).  Despite all of the distractions, these “songs” proved to be very, very memorable for the audience — even if the video editing (in the “Forest Battle” for example) was a bit suspect).  If you’re looking for something to praise, or moments to hold on to, these were the moments when just about everything came together as it should — a marriage of sight and sound to convey the epic nature of the Star Wars saga.

Related review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring at Radio City Music Hall

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