The Seven Best John Williams Scores

Start getting excited right now: October 10–12 the Seattle Symphony will be presenting The Movie Music of John Williams. On the off chance you don’t already know, John Williams (left) is one of those rare artists, musical or otherwise, whose work has completely blended into the fabric of our culture. On paper he just writes music for the movies, but in reality his work transcends cinema; it’s an inseparable part of our shared history. 

The classic Duhhh Dum! passage from Jaws isn’t just recognizable as music from a popular film; it’s become sonic shorthand for impending danger. The music from Indiana Jones is the grand soundtrack template for adventure in and of itself. The music from Star Wars is synonymous with… you know, wars amongst the stars. Even if you have somehow managed to go your whole life without seeing any of these films (how and why did you do that, by the way?) you certainly have these refrains buried somewhere in the folds of your brain.

Ranking the best of Williams’s scores is a futile endeavor, particularly for guy like me who’s been obsessed with movies since birth. This is like picking my favorite out of a litter of adorable puppies. Which isn’t to say that many of his scores sound alike (though, c’mon, it’s kind of true) but that my number one will just end up being randomly picked out of the box because I can’t take five puppies home, as much as I’d like to. Number one could just as easily have been any of the others, except for that puppy who bit me and peed all over my shirt. That puppy is Hook

 7. The Harry Potter Franchise

John Williams has been making music for Hollywood since the 1950s, but he didn’t start inserting himself into the DNA of film as a whole until the ’70s. He had a great degree of success scoring disaster movies and, most notably, Robert Altman’s The Long GoodbyeHe even won an Oscar for Fiddler on the Roof, but after Jaws in 1975 he became THE go-to man for gigantic, beloved blockbusters. What’s absolutely incredible is that he was still able to create the perfectly inseparable theme for yet another mega-franchise 25 years later, for an audience a generation removed from his prime years. John Williams’s sensibilities are simply too shrewdly populist to ever become antiquated. Technically, Williams scored only the first three Harry Potter movies, but his most famous contribution, “Hedwig’s Theme” (you’ll recognize it, trust me) has been used in all of them, because of course it was. 

 6. Nixon 

This one is for me. Oliver Stone’s Nixon is nowhere near the kind of beloved classic all of the others on this list are, but I’ve seen it no less than 10 times. One of its greatest strengths is Williams’ monumental score, which I think is his finest, most adult work to date. His most admirable gift is his ability to distill all of the contrasting emotional beats of his subject into something that feels perfectly singular. That sums up this masterpiece perfectly; the primary theme is at once grandiose, terrifying, triumphant and tragic, just like the life of the man himself. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend at least watching the beginning so you can catch the goose-bump-raising opening passage. I promise it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck while also making you think “Yep, that sounds like Nixon, all right.”

5. Superman

Who else could do the perfect music for Superman? Listen to the Superman music right now. Better yet, download it onto your mobile device and go about your day with this music thrumming in your ears. You’re gonna be smiling and waving at everyone. You’re gonna be looking for bad guys to punch, people to save. You might even just start running down the street with your fists pumping in front of you. Look, I’m obviously basing this on personal experience, but I’m not wrong. The music, let’s face it, is WAY more fun and exciting than any of the Superman movies themselves.

This is one of the reasons I fear going to the Seattle Pops show, because when they play the Superman music, I’m afraid I’ll start jumping up and down on my seat. But maybe we all will, and it’ll be a bonding experience.   

 4. Jaws

This wasn’t the first time Williams hooked up with Steven Spielberg, but it was the first time the two worked together to create a piece of cinema that completely subsumed the world’s imagination. This might very well be the most effective score of all time. Just try watching the beach scenes with the sound off. Better yet, don’t ever do that, ever. The thrills are like 55% Duhh Dum. Duhhh dum. Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum (you know how the thing goes). I’m getting freaked out just thinking about it and the only body of water even remotely close to me is a hot tub. But… I suppose there still could be a shark in that hot tub. Duuuhhhh Dum.

 3. Star Wars

You see what I mean, about trying to pick a favorite puppy? How is Star Wars only number three on this list? It’s Star Wars! The opening credit blast of space triumph, the “Imperial March,” “The Force Theme,” Williams really outdid himself on this one. Yet another in a LONG list of movies that you simply cannot fathom with a different composer. If Star Wars hadn’t had John Williams, it still would’ve been pretty good, but the music is a large aspect of what made it great.

 2. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. gets the nostalgia bump to the number two spot. This was the first movie I actually remember seeing. I was three or four. I think I might have actually come online as a sentient being while watching this film, because I don’t really remember anything before this. And you know what’s the most vivid about this first memory, right? WHITE DEAD-LOOKING E.T. IN THE RAVINE. The image that scarred a generation of toddlers.

This was the soundtrack to the very beginning of my life. I defy you not to tear up a little when that unbelievably perfect E.T. themereally kicks in. Especially at the end, when Elliot and E.T. are saying goodbye, the UFO is taking off, the wind is blasting Elliot’s hair, he’s crying, you’re crying, everyone’s crying and Williams’ music is jacked into overdrive like he just doesn’t care that you don’t want to be seen crying when the lights come up. It’s insanely powerful, and it makes me cry-happy like few things in the universe. I would’ve enjoyed this climactic music as a child much more if I hadn’t gone catatonic from WHITE DEAD LOOKING E.T. IN THE RAVINE.  

 1. Indiana Jones and the Three Great Adventures He Had. THREE.

So, this is the puppy I ended up with. I’m happy with my choice. All of the other puppies are still wonderful, but this puppy? He’s the one for me. Everything I like about movies, music and being alive are all wrapped up in that incredible title theme. All the music is great in these three movies, but let’s face it, you’re not thinking about the train chase theme from Last Crusade or the horrifying human sacrifice theme from Temple of Doom. You’re thinking about that absolutely perfect Dun da dun dunnnn Dun da Dunn, Dun da Dunn DUNNN, Dun da dun DUN DUN. All other film composers trying to create the sound of adventure will forever only pale in comparison. With Raiders of the Lost Ark, Williams created a score that is inextricably linked not just to the film and the characters within it, but to the very ideas and emotions related to the genre as a whole. He’s done it before. He’ll probably do it again. 

Seattle Pops: The Movie Music of John Williams runs October 10-12 at the Seattle Symphony.

Dramatic MonoBlogue

Is it Tuesday already? Okay, then. Here’s your pre-midweek muster roll of local arts news.

City Arts announced finalists for the Fall Art Walk Awards, including this fanciful kinetic assemblage by Casey Curran, selected by wizard Shaun Kardinal, who informs me that if you turn the little crank at the bottom, the thing comes alive!

Seriously, if you haven’t been to the Art Walk Awards, look into it and RSVP now. Free booze, music and all the finalists on display in one place awaiting your vote. It’s a party.

-PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal announced a couple of key promotions at the season-opening Jewels premier last Friday. Jerome Tisserand, who joined the PNB in 2007, was promoted to principal dancer. Leta Biasucci, who joined in 2011, was promoted to soloist.

-The mop-up of the Balagan Theatre’s sudden implosion continues. ArtsWest announced they will honor Balagan season subscriptions at no charge. They also offer complimentary tickets to Balagan subscribers for the planned co-production Dogfight, opening October 23.

-Lastly, here’s a video of a butterfly landing on a flutist’s face in the middle of the Carl Nielsen International Flute Competition in Denmark. Amazingly, she made it past this round into the finals. Let her unflappability be your guiding light for the week:

In Case You Missed It: “A Viewer’s Guide to George Balanchine’s Jewels and an interview with John Markus, former Cosby Show head writer and co-author of The Fabulous Lipitones (running at Taproot Theatre through October 18.)

Coming soon to Encore Arts: Q&A with director Stephanie Shine on the return of Book-It’s I Am of Ireland and a look at the movie music magic of John Williams in advance of the Seattle Pop’s upcoming concert series.

Taproot Theatre Announces 2015 Season

Taproot Theatre Company have just announced their 39th season. With five mainstage shows, the season runs the gamut from drama, to comedy, to beloved classics.

The season opens with The Explorers Club by Nell Benjamin. A comedy about wacky scientists, it tells the story of a woman who has been nominated for membership in the famed London Explorers Club. Set in 1879 – she’s discovered a mythical city, but will the admittance of a woman in the club wreak havoc throughout the British Empire?

Based on a true story, the regional premiere of The Best of Enemies, by Mark St. Germain, will be staged next. It’s the story of a racially segregated school in North Carolina in 1971, until the Ku Klux Klan and a Civil Rights activist are forced to work together.

Jeeves returns to Taproot in the spring (he was last seen in Jeeves in Bloom in 2013). In a regional premiere, Jeeves Intervenes, by Margaret Raether, is based on P.G. Wodehouse’s classic Jeeves and the Hard Boiled Egg. It’s a comedy. It involves weddings and love and schemes and, of course, the quick-witted Jeeves.

Their summer offering will be Godspell, a musical conceived and originally directed by John-Michael tebelak with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, it boasts a Tony Award-nominated score.

The season ends with a world premiere of Nathan Jeffrey’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale, Dracula

Roy Arauz New Head of Seattle Musical Theatre

Local director and theatre producer Roy Arauz has been apppointed Seattle Musical Theatre’s new artistic director.

Arauz is well-known in Seattle’s theatrical circles, having worked with such varied arts organizations as ArtsWest, SecondStory Repertory, Redwood Theatre and Studio East. He is also the founder of the fringe drama group Arouet, a company that has been staging plays since 2009. With Seattle Musical Theatre, he’s worked within the organization as an artist, manager, and dancer-choreographer.

Seattle Musical Theatre is celebrating its 37th season, mounting revivals of popular musicals at its venue at Magnuson Park. The coming season includes Man of La Mancha, Rocky Horror Show, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweet Charity and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Stuart Vaughan, Founding Director of Seattle Rep, Dies at 88

Stuart Vaughan, the founding Artistic Director of Seattle Repertory Theatre, died of prostate cancer on June 10 at his home in High Bridge, New Jersey. He was 88 years old.

It was in 1962, after the World’s Fair put Seattle on the map, that Seattle businessman and arts patron Bagley Wright led the effort to establish Seattle’s first serious theatrical organization. Stuart Vaughan, a young director who was making a name for himself as an interpreter of Shakespeare, was asked to be the Artistic Director. He accepted and brought together an acting company. Their opening night was November 13, 1963 featuring Vernon Weddle in a well-received production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Critic Hans Lehmann said of the show that it “thrilled the house as a harbinger of great theater for years to come,” and he was absolutely right.

Vaughan lived his life in and around theater. Born on August 23, 1925 in Terra Haute, Indiana, his father was an auto parts salesman who was killed in action during World War II. At 15, Vaughan played the lead role in a production of Robin Hood at a local children’s theatre. He’d go onto the Indiana State Teachers College, (now Indiana University), where he designed and directed a production of Macbeth as his thesis.

Vaughan worked as a teacher, director and actor in England and New York throughout the 1950s. In the early part of the decade, New York theatre impresario Joseph Papp asked him to direct outdoor productions of Julius Caeser and The Taming of the Shrew—the beginning of the still-thriving New York favorite, Shakespeare in the Park. In 1963 he directed an off-Broadway production of Abe Lincoln in Illinois with Hal Holbrook. who had performed in Seattle doing Mark Twain Tonight! during the World’s Fair. With Holbrook’s help, Stuart became Seattle Repertory Theatre’s first Artistic Director. In the late 1960s he also helped found the Repertory Theater New Orleans that closed for financial reasons in 1972. 

He continued to work in theater. He taught at Harvard and the University of Vermont, among others, and toured the United States with the New Globe Theatre. He wrote plays including Assassination 1965Ghost Dance and The Royal Game.  Back in New York City he staged several of the New York Shakespeare Festival productions including Two Gentlemen of Verona with Melissa McGovern, King John with Kevin Conway and Julius Caesar with Al Pacino and Martin Sheen. 

He is survived by his wife, Anne Thompson Vaughan. The two met in Seattle when she auditioned for a place in Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Seattle Men’s Chorus & Seattle Women’s Chorus Announce 2014-15 Season

Seattle Men’s Chorus and Seattle Women’s Chorus are excited to bring wide ranging and impactful music to the local arts scene in 2014-15. Under the umbrella of Flying House Productions, the combined choruses are the largest community choruses in America and the largest gay choruses in the world. Their coming season reflects their diversity and diverse talents.

Seattle Women’s Chorus Fall Concert
Hallows in the Cathedral – Moonshadow
At Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the Seattle Women’s Chorus’s concert will be filled with dark, mysterious, eerie and intriguing songs just in time for the Halloween season.
Oct. 17-25 at Seattle’s St. Mark’s Cathedral; Oct. 11 at Renton’s IKEA Performing Arts Center.

Seattle Men’s Chorus Holiday Concert
…Our Gay Apparel
Who better to highlight all of the campy, fun, and well, gay apparel we have to wear duing the holiday season than Seattle Men’s Chorus? Audience members are asked to wear their favorite holiday sweater to see a rip-roaring show of everyone’s favorite holiday tunes.
Nov. 29 – Dec. 22 at Benaroya Hall, Dec. 4 at Tacoma’s Pantages Theatre and Dec. 13 at Everett Civic Auditorium.

Seattle Women’s Chorus Winter Concert
Reel Women
Seattle Women’s Chorus gives a musical tribute to some of the silver screen’s most scintillating ladies.
Feb. 5-8 at Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, Feb. 1 at Renton’s IKEA Performing Arts Center.

Seattle Men’s Chorus Spring Concert
Tyler’s Suite/I Am Harvey Milk
Through new, original commissions, this production honors the lives of two men who have left a powerful legacy in the gay community – Tyler Clementi and Harvey Milk.
March 28 and 29, McCaw Hall

Seattle Men’s Chorus Summer Concert
Get ready for the full spectrum of Queen hits as the Seattle Men’s Chorus plans on singing “We Are The Champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “We Will Rock You.”
June 20 and 21, McCaw Hall

Subscription packages run from $45-$193.50 and single tickets run $20-$65. Click here for more information.

Two Seattle Theatres Awarded NAMT Grants

 Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre and Issaquah’s Village Theatre are among nine companies nationwide to receive grants from the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s National Fund for New Musicals. The funding program supports NAMT member not-for-profit theatres in their collaborations with writers to create, develop and produce new musicals.

The 5th Avenue Theatre received a National Fund grant of $4,000 to support a workshop or reading for Beautiful Poison by Brendan Milburn, Duane Poole and Valeria Vigoda with support from The ASCAP Foundation Irving Caesar Fund. Milburn and Vigoda, whose new musical Ernest Shackleton Loves Me recently premiered at Seattle’s Balagan Theatre, are both alumni from NAMT’s 2004 Festival for Striking 12 and 2012 Festival for Sleeping Beauty Wakes. Milburn is also an alumnus from NAMT’s 2011 Festival for Watt?!?,

Village Theatre received the same grant for Jesus in My Bedroom by Melanie Burgess, Tim Symons and Tony and Pulitzer-winner Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal). Yorkey is also a Festival alumnus writer for his musical Making Tracks presented in NAMT’s Festival in 2001.

This is the sixth year of grants awarded from the National Fund of New Musicals, a fund created by NAMT to help support every stage of development for new musicals. To date, the Fund has now awarded 66 grants totaling $269,500.

Video Round-Up: Gimme the Music of ‘Hair’

SPOILER ALERT: There will be nudity on stage! 

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is being staged at ArtsWest in West Seattle. The show’s profanity, treatment of sexuality, depiction of (gasp!) drugs, and its (gadzooks!) famous nude scene broke new ground in musical theatre when it opened off-Broadway in 1967, and then on Broadway in 1968. Hair features a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragniand music by Galt MacDermot. Several of the songs became anthems in the anti-Vietnam War movement, and are still well-loved the world over. The show’s hits, from “The Age of Aquarius” to the catchy title track, were quickly scooped up by pop artists (and Sesame Street!). Listen to some of our favorites below, then catch this watershed show on stage in West Seattle.

“Sesame Street” recognized a cultural touchstone when they saw one:


And Liza Minnelli did, too:


Ditto for Nina Simone…


…and Three Dog Night.


Everyone could feel the dawn of the age of Aquarius:

’50 Shades! The Musical’ is Coming to Seattle

Musical theatre fans who love (or love to hate) the S&M-tinged mega-hit book Fifty Shades of Grey, all your dreams are coming true. 50 Shades! The Musical, a parody of the erotic novel, is coming to The Moore Theatre this summer, from June 12-14.

The story of 50 Shades! The Musical centers on a ladies book club that decides to read the naughty novel as a group. As they interpret the book, they take the audience through the story with dance numbers and songs like “They Get Nasty”, “I Don’t Make Love”, and “There’s a Hole Inside of Me.”

There is, of course, a disclaimer: “Like the book series, 50 Shades! The Musical, is surely not for those under the age of 18, but does not cross boundaries that would make general audiences squirm.” Check out the trailer below and decide for yourself!