Time warped orchestra

DPO and Jeans ‘n Classics debut ‘The Music of Rocky Horror’

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor and Artistic Director Neal Gittleman

To younger audiences, the idea of attending a performance by your local philharmonic orchestra may sound like a staid, stuffy or simply uncool way to spend a Friday night – especially on Halloween. Well, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra is ready to railroad stereotypes and expectations for at least one night this coming Friday when the DPO, along with Canadian rock ensemble Jeans ‘n Classics, take over the “lab” in the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center. Together, they will perform the world premiere of “Transylvania Time Warp: The Music of Rocky Horror” with a full orchestra in a setting perhaps normally reserved for classical symphonies and operas.

So how did it come to pass that for one night the sweet transvestites, Transylvanian riff raff and lovers of all things campy get to take over what is arguably the classiest venue in the Gem City?

“The idea was hatched in some conversations between [Dayton Performing Arts Alliance President] Paul Helfrich and Peter Brennan of Jeans ‘n Classics talking about different kinds of possible rock band plus orchestra concert themes,” Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor and Artistic Director Neal Gittleman said. “And someone said, ‘Hey, what about ‘Rocky Horror?’’

“[So] Helfrich called and asked if this idea appealed to me as the orchestra wanted to do something different for Halloween.” Jeans ‘n Classics owner and arranger Peter Brennan added, “It appealed to me immediately.”

For those of you unfamiliar with them, Jeans ‘n Classics is the brainchild of guitarist and music arranger Peter Brennan and has been, for the past 20 or so years, one of the most renowned musical entities specializing in scoring pop/rock music for both rock band and orchestra tandems targeted at young audiences. Once the “Rocky Horror” concept was agreed upon by the DPO, it was up to Brennan to begin arranging the music for performance by both the Jeans ‘n Classics rock band and the DPO orchestra. The concept of bringing the songs of “Rocky Horror” to life in a world premiere performance between the two units was both a challenging and enjoyable endeavor.

“These are original arrangements, but our challenge was to try and capture the humor and characterizations from the film and stage [to] show as much as we could within what is essentially a rock concert with orchestra,” Brennan explained. “I tapped into my knowledge of many pop/rock nuances that, to my ear, come through beautifully in the material. This gave me outlines and stylistic pictures with which to approach the songs. It is a lot of fun to have certain band lines and have orchestral instruments and rethink them a little. The balance is always to maintain a strong respect for the original music and what it was trying to do, but then keep things interesting for the orchestra players, too.”

Once the arrangements were finalized, the different parts were distributed to Brennan’s band and the Dayton Philharmonic, and then the two ensembles rehearsed the parts separately in preparation for a one-time performance. Despite the distance between them, Brennan was confident about what the end result would be this coming Friday.

“We have been working with the Dayton Philharmonic for a number of years now, and they know us and our approach to classic pop and classic rock as far as our orchestrations and band members work, perform and interact,” Brennan said. “They are a superb orchestra, and they can certainly be relied upon to have this material in hand by the time we join them.”

On the surface, it seems the music from “Rocky Horror” is a bit of a mismatch for an orchestra-meets-rock-band concert, both song-wise and content-wise. But both Gittleman and Brennan believe the songs lend themselves perfectly to a concert performance that can take full advantage of a collaboration between the Philharmonic and the rock-meets-symphony performances on which Jeans ‘n Classics has built their reputation.

“The music within ‘Rocky Horror’ taps into so many familiar and classic rock/pop genres,” Brennan said. “Their styles, arrangements and the orchestration approach captures everything from ’50s rock and roll, pop ballads [and] even ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’”

“There’s actually a fair amount of orchestral music snuck in there to begin with,” added Gittleman. “Once that door is opened, we’ll just barge our way in and make the orchestra part of the gig.”

While the excitement of this one-time, world premiere concert turns the Schuster Center into the Frankenstein Place this coming Friday night, with an air of mystery and intrigue, one thing is certain – it will be an evening of campy fun for both the performers and audience, and both Gittleman and Brennan insist everyone who attends comes dressed as their favorite “Rocky Horror” character and be ready to dance.

“It’s an event for Halloween that is very unique, and anything goes,” Brennan said. “Great music, costumes, singers [and] a wonderful orchestra in perhaps one of the most beautiful halls anywhere – plus they can do the Time Warp!”

“And the concert will definitely carry the Charles Atlas Seal of Approval,” Gittleman added.

The Dayton Philharmonic, in collaboration with Jeans ‘n Classics, presents “Transylvania Time Warp: The Music of Rocky Horror” this Friday, Oct.31 at Schuster Center’s Mead Theatre, 1 W. Second St. Tickets are $15-35. For more information, please visit daytonperformingarts.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.Page

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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