Screenland at the Symphony: ‘Nosferatu’

Screenland at the Symphony: ‘Nosferatu’, October 29, 2014 at 7pm, Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center, with Dorothy Papadakos, organist.

It’s not just a movie. It’s an event! The Kansas City Symphony has partnered with Screenland Theatres to present a series of movies and music, the most recent being Nosferatu, the 1922 silent film, the original vampire movie.

Screenland founder Butch Rigby presided over a costume content and educated the crowd about the film before introducing organist Dorothy Papadakos. She is a member of the 7-time Grammy Award winning Paul Winter Consort, and came to international attention as the first woman to be Cathedral Organist of the world’s largest gothic cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC from 1990-2003.

Papadakos came out on stage dressed as Nosferatu, complete with razor fingernails and mask! She further related interesting facets of the film and even asked those in the crowd who were born in the 1920s to speak up and be applauded. These introductions energized the crowd and made everyone feel welcome, even if those trying the symphony for the first time.

Opening with Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Papadakos then played throughout the film’s 90 minutes. She approached her accompaniment as improvised background music, rather than outright melodies, with major characters and items having themes that repeated throughout the film. For example, when little mice came out, Papadakos would trill. In long scenes of sailing or riding horses, a walking beat underlaid a traveling theme, often dark, but sometimes neutral in tone.

The film was good on three levels. First, because of the crowd work, it was a truly social experience that engaged the audience, who applauded and laughed throughout the film, which was sometimes too old and earnest to pull off being scary. Second, it was interesting to hear the background to the film and experience something so old, a real time travel experience to the past. We did catch the “special effects” of the vampire appearing and disappearing, and some stop-motion effects, technical triumphs at the time. Finally, the film itself with the music was an entertaining evening.

Nosferatu is terribly dated, in ways that could not be covered completely by the well produced event. We did not come to care about the characters, and it was difficult to tell whether a scene was supposed to be set in the dayor night. The actors seemed to wear no makeup, making everyone, not just the vampire, look pale and horrific, especially the wife, who was skeletal before the vampire ever appeared! However, the settings were completely convincing, and the ending satisfying, if expected.

There could not have been a better venue for this production than Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center, which makes you feel pampered and grand, as does the magnificent organ that dominates the space, the metal and wood almost having a life of their own. We were grateful to the many volunteers who guided us in and around, and who handed out candy as we left!

I was drawn to Screenland at the Symphony to illustrate the great variety of events that the Kansas City Symphony offers. You don’t have to be able to spell Tchaikovsky, but the Screenland retains an accessible yet intellectual edge where you will come away having learned something. I recommend the series; you must give it a shot!

I was able to speak with Frank Byrne, Executive Director of the Kansas City Symphony, about the other events that those who are not normally drawn to Rachmaninoff may want to explore.

Events INSIDER: Is the Kansas City Symphony accessible for those who are hesitant to dress up and commit to an evening of classical music?

Frank Byrne: Absolutely. We are very proud to have expanded the range of offerings to give a variety of people events that they feel comfortable attending, while remaining true to being a symphony orchestra.

Frank Byrne: For example, in Screenland of the Symphony, we celebrate the connection of symphonies to film scores with our upcoming April showing of Singing in the Rain and Disney’s Fantasia in May.

Frank Byrne: Our Halloween offering, a silent film, is a fun thing to do, the great classic film on the Dracula legend, and we encourage attendees to come in costume.

Frank Byrne: We also have a more casual series called “Classics Uncorked”, which are earlier, shorter, and cost just $25. Guests can dress as they please, and even the orchestra dresses casually. They also come with a social component.

Frank Byrne: Just last week we had one of our ‘Special Concerts’, featuring Marilyn May, the singer who made the American Songbook famous and appeared on Tonight with Johnny Carson more often than any other singer. Coming up we have concerts with Natalie Merchant and …

Frank Byrne: Our Tuba Christmas, December 5th and 8th, is one of the largest tuba Christmas gatherings in the country, with more than 600 tuba players performing.

Frank Byrne: We have intentionally diversified the offerings over the past two years to connect with audiences and give them other entry points to connect with us. We have discovered that not everyone comes to everything, but with our wide range of programming, we connect with more people. We are meeting and delighting new audiences.

Events INSIDER: Thank you.

Be sure to check out the KC Symphony website, with upcoming events:

  • Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage, November 9, a kids’ show about the life of the composer of The Magic Flute
  • Natalie Merchant with the KC Symphony, November 15, the pop star formerly of 10,000 Maniacs
  • TubaChristmas, December 5 & 6, with 600 tubas playing Christmas songs
  • Handel’s Messiah, December 5, which if you don’t know the title, you will recognize as That Hallelujah Song
  • Christmas Festival, December 21, cherished Christmas carols and Santa
  • From Russia with Love, March 18, with the Russian Romantic hits of classical music
  • Plus so much more in classical music and beyond