Pasadena Star-news: Vox Lumiere rocks the 'Hunchback of Notr

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Pasadena Star-news: Vox Lumiere rocks the 'Hunchback of Notr

Unread post by silentfilm » Fri Mar 28, 2008 7:24 am

http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/ci_8719384

Vox Lumiere rocks the 'Hunchback of Notre Dame'
By Vicki Smith Paluch, Correspondent
Article Launched: 03/27/2008 03:42:24 PM PDT


'Vox Lumiere: The Hunchback on Notre Dame' will be staged Saturday in La Mirada. VOX LUMIERE: THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd.
La Mirada
8 p.m. Saturday
$50, $35, $25.
(562) 944-9801; www.lamiradatheatre.com; www.voxlumiere.com

What started out as a music experiment has become an entertainment extravaganza - a theatrical experience that combines rock opera and silent film, re-energizing film classics from the 1920s for the 21st century.

Dubbed Vox Lumiere (`Voice of Light' in Latin and French), this turn-of-the-millennium brainchild of composer Kevin Saunders Hayes, combines the artistry of musicians, singers, dancers and a multi-media light show to enhance, not translate, silent films.

On Saturday, the 14-member Vox Lumiere will perform its production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," sharing the stage of the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts with the 1923 silent film starring Lon Chaney as the hunchback.

As a composer of more than film scores, classical compositions, rock songs and advertising jingles, Hayes had long dreamed of working for a film director who would allow him to fully score the project rather than putting the pop songs of the month into key scenes of the movie.

"I knew I wasn't going to find a director who would let me do that," said the 50-year-old Hayes from his Los Angeles home.

But one day, when he was living in New York City working off-off Broadway, the financially-strapped composer was bargain hunting for t-shirts at an Odd Lots discount store. While rummaging through the various bins, he came across one that was filled with two-for-a-dollar videos of silent films. He picked out Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," and Chaney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Phantom of the Opera."
He had heard about "Metropolis" as a college student and he popped the video into his VCR at home.

"I was blown away," Hayes recalled. "I sat down at the piano as it ran and the score immediately came to me. It became one of those projects. You know the ones. You work on it in between the jobs that pay the bills. I kept experimenting."


Then, he had one of those 3 a.m. ideas: Do it as a live performance!

In 2000, Hayes conducted as Vox Lumiere performed "Metropolis" at the Avignon-New York Film Festival in New York.

"We figured out the staging and technical things we had to do to pull it off, and lo and behold, it worked," he recalled.

It worked so well that they were asked to perform it at the Avignon Opera House, where the opera director asked him, "What are you doing for us next year?"

That was easy. When in France, pay homage to a national hero, Victor Hugo, and do "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." He had already started working on the score.

"The French love the bossu de Notre Dame. The hunchback is a national hero," he said.

Able to utilize the classic silent films for free because they are in the public domain, Hayes had his dream come true: He was able to score, produce and direct his own film-theatrical events.

"We also do a lot of restoration of these great films, and we're keeping them alive by enhancing them with the rock-operatic scores and accessible artistry," he said. "Now, a new generation can see the incredible acting of Lon Chaney."

But unlike the concert style performance of "Metropolis," during which the singers perform below the screen, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" has the performers interacting with the images on the screen.

"We wanted to three-dimensionalize these films," said Hayes, who studied music at London's Royal Academy of Music, Abilene Christian University in Texas and graduate work at Hartt School of Music in Connecticut.

His eclectic score moves from opera to head-banging rock.

"Each music form has its own language, but the result is the same. When done right, you will have goose bumps on your neck," he said.

So, when co-producer and performer Victoria Levy sings the innermost thoughts of Esmeralda, she connects with Quasimodo on the giant screen as well as the audience. She looks to the screen, alludes to the action by mimicking a gesture or two, and allows the audience to watch the film or the light show or the band.

"We don't want to take away from the movie," Levy said. "The audience can select what they want to focus upon. There are times when the action on stage stops and directs the audience's attention to the film. At others, the pacing of the film is so much slower than we are accustomed, that we enhance the action with our live performances."

To integrate film and performance, singers and dancers engage in choreographed crowd and battle scenes, as well as by music and song.

The multi-media light show picks up on details, such as the stained glass windows in the cathedral scenes.

"There are moments when you speak to the people in the scenes.

The songs are Kevin's," Levy said. "I am not singing the subtitles for Esmeralda. I'm trying to be inside her mind, singing the thoughts she is thinking to herself."

The acting style of silent movies is grand, slow, and over-the-top.

Partly pantomime, the actors had to convey the story to an audience which is reading titles, and perhaps, an audience which could not read.

For today's audiences who cannot stop multi-tasking, Vox Lumiere gives them a feast for the eyes and ears.

"It's so powerful - the band rocking, the singers and the film - I get goosebumps when I'm on stage," Levy said.

Jim Henry
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Unread post by Jim Henry » Wed Apr 16, 2008 12:16 pm

I attended the performance in La Mirada. My hat's off to Hayes. I was apprehensive before the show. Was this going to be some ill-conceived mashup of rock music and silent film? Hayes knows his craft. He has managed to respectfully use silent film as an element of a new musical production. If you have the opportunity I would encourage silent film fans to see a Vox Lumiere production. It is an interesting and fresh look at silent films.
Jim Henry

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Unread post by Michael Mortilla » Thu Apr 17, 2008 12:36 pm

Jim Henry wrote:I attended the performance in La Mirada. My hat's off to Hayes. I was apprehensive before the show. Was this going to be some ill-conceived mashup of rock music and silent film? Hayes knows his craft. He has managed to respectfully use silent film as an element of a new musical production. If you have the opportunity I would encourage silent film fans to see a Vox Lumiere production. It is an interesting and fresh look at silent films.
Thanks for that, Jim. I went to the website for Hayes' productio. It seemed like a lot of on stage personality with the movie as a backdrop.

Would you mind telling me (us) how he managed to connect the contemporary elements to support the film? I just didn't get that from the website at all.

BTW, I've met Kevin and he is a very nice guy. I have no doubts about his talent and abilities. He's taken this show all over the world, so there is obviously something very appealing. I wish I could have gone, but I was leaving town early the next morning and it was impossible for me to attend. A close friend directed the event and did a pre-show magic act. If you have any comments about that, I'd be interested in hearing them as well.

Thanks again for posting the comment.
Michael Mortilla

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Jim Henry
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Unread post by Jim Henry » Fri May 09, 2008 6:17 pm

It's difficult to explain how Vox Lumiere connects the film to the live performance. It certainly does not come across in the on-line videos. The best way I can describe it is to say that the focus shifts back and forth as the film goes from pivotal dramatic moments where the foreground of live action becomes subdued or disappears entirely to the mob types scenes where the foreground live actions becomes the focus to amplify what is seen on screen. At those times the movie is a backdrop to the live performance and those are the parts that you see on-line.

Since the magic act was performed in front of the scaffolding that is the Vox Lumiere set, the magic didn't look polished. The transition between the two was rough. I couldn't understand why the magic act was there. Theatrically, it just didn't work for me. And I used to be a magician so it's not any prejudice against magicians.

Vox Lumiere is scheduled to perform at the California Theatre in San Bernardino, CA in 2009. That theatre is home to one of the last two remaining original theatre organ installations in Southern California, the other being the Los Angeles Orpheum. At the moment the California organ is in rough shape but the city council is considering a project to restore the organ. Perhaps by the time Vox Lumiere is there it would be possible to incorporate the organ in some way. Maybe walk in music if nothing else.
Jim Henry

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Unread post by Michael Mortilla » Sat May 10, 2008 6:21 pm

Thank you Jim. Very thoughtful post.
Michael Mortilla

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