Review: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra infuses ‘La La Land’ In Concert with vitality

Credit: Special

Credit: Special


(This review was originally posted at 12:40 a.m. Oct. 26, 2017)

"La La Land"-mania might have cooled since the musical momentarily won a Best Picture Oscar in February, but its music did nab a couple of nods for Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("City of Stars") among the movie's six-trophy haul.

Since a summer blowout at the Hollywood Bowl – a truly live experience with Oscar-winning composer Justin Hurwitz conducting the score – “La La Land” In Concert has been performed by major orchestras around the country.

The symphony-playing-to-the-film experience unfolded for the first of two nights at Atlanta Symphony Hall on Wednesday (it repeats Thursday) and brought fresh vitality to Damien Chazelle’s movie, which was broadcast on a drop down screen hanging above the front of the orchestra.

With conductor George Stelluto leading, the ace musicians in the ASO burst into the shivering violins and signature piano melody of “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme” during the opening overture. (Side note – the presentation started at 7:35 p.m. sharp. Keep in mind that you’re not only interrupting a musical performance, but a movie as well. Yes, that means you, people who showed up 30 minutes after the printed ticket time.)

The ASO ably captured the thrilling sweep of the opening sequence (“Another Day of Sun”) staged on the ramp between the 105 and 110 freeways in Los Angeles, with plenty of percussive thrusts, and salted “Someone in the Crowd” with prominent shakers and woodwinds.

The orchestra depicted nearly every musical nuance, including jazz-purist Sebastian’s (Ryan Gosling) piano detours during his stint playing holiday songs in a tony restaurant (ASO pianist Alan Steinberger was a true standout) and gentle high-hat taps during scene changes.

They did not, however, attempt the synthesized covers of “Take on Me” and “I Ran” in the scene featuring Sebastian earning rent money as a keyboardist in an ‘80s cover band. And that’s quite OK.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

One of the movie’s highlights, the cutesy tap dance between Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia under a street lamp, featured cascading strings and insinuating brass during their performance of “A Lovely Night.” The subtle lighting beamed on the wall behind the stage augmented the musical interpretation.

What made “La La Land” such a joy upon its release is that it’s a love letter to music as much as it is a Skittles-colored postcard to Los Angeles. Sebastian aches for jazz to be appreciated again and, as the ASO’s brass section and bassist performed the background music in the jazz club scenes, Sebastian tells Mia, “It’s dying on the vine and the world says let it die, it’s had its time…not on my watch.”

Before a 15-minute intermission, the orchestra gently unfurled the movie’s centerpiece song, “City of Stars,” with its mesmerizing cadence and see-sawing piano riff, and the fluttering woodwinds that anchor “Planetarium,” the backdrop to the wordless, fantastical scene set at Griffith Observatory.

There is plenty of “City of Stars” in the second half of the film, as well as Stone’s showpiece, the wistful, piano-laden “Audition (The Fools Who Dream”).

If there's a film fan who hasn't seen the delightful "La La Land," take advantage of this bonus opportunity. Trust us, there's no comparison to viewing it on an airplane video monitor.

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“La La Land” In Concert

7:30 p.m. Thursday. $39-$89. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000,