Edinburgh Fringe 2022
A New York sextet breathes new life into classic animated films with live performance of the movie music.
Animated films can be quite fun to watch. The classic ones have the chase scenes between characters, stunts, laugh-out-loud humour, sometimes touching moments, but always are entertaining. But what is often taken for granted or overlooked is the importance of the musical score to enhance the mood of the visuals, advance the story, and further accelerate the action.
The Queen’s Cartoonists, under the extremely capable baton of pianist Dr. Joel Pierson, are committed to remedying that situation, bringing some focus of the movies back to the intricate and lush scores. The title of the show and group can be a bit confusing in the UK; no, they are not part of the Royal Family but they are from Queen’s, a borough in New York City. These highly accomplished jazz musicians have set out to introduce their genre of music to a younger crowd through the animated pieces. However, the appeal is universal and ageless, and the work has special meaning to an older generation that grew up on the classic cartoon characters.
The films are presented with the original sound effects and dialogue, but minus the music. The original scores were composed jazz greats Carl Stalling, Raymond Scott, and Duke Ellington, as well as classical giants Mozart, Rossini, and Richard Strauss. In most cases, the original movie score has been carefully replicated, note for note, by the live band. The precision with which they synchronize to the actions in the films is dazzling and very impressive. Not only are the musicians playing the scores, they are also adding sound effects from a kazoo, train whistle, whistling, and more. There are some original compositions for the newer films. Pierson has joined forces with award-winning animation studio Aardman to provide accompanying music for Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep cartoons. Other cartoons feature classic characters that are highly recognizable, but this reviewer won’t spoil the surprises by listing them.
The group goes beyond the music by telling interesting and insightful stories about the films, supplying background tidbits and anecdotes about the composers of the scores. There are many funny moments, not only in the comedic films but also from the narrator, who is highly adept at engaging his audience. There is even audience participation in the program and some physical comedy, which keeps the program light-hearted and moving quickly. The whole show is a treat for the eyes and ears. It is a thoroughly entertaining hour that leaves the audience, from kids to seniors, wanting more.
The virtuosic multi-instrumentalists are very impressive: Pierson, Musical Director and piano; Rossen Nedelchev, drums; Drew Pitcher, flute, tenor saxophone; Mark Phillips, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Greg Hammontree , trumpet, trombone; and Mario Caribé, bass. Not only are they masters of their instruments, they are fun to watch and are clearly enjoying the experience. Band members started careers in international centres including Australia, Bulgaria, and Washington, D.C., but since forming this show in 2015, all moved to Queens. They are now a part of the vibrant New York jazz scene. The band has brought this unique concert experience to performing arts centers, clubs, and festivals all across the United States and Europe and will soon be touring in Canada in collaboration with Canada’s National Film Board. This is their first Edinburgh Fringe run.