Recurring Nightmare Before Christmas

Alex Gutjahr and his 15-piece orchestra bring Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas alive for a third year running this weekend at O Patro Vys.

Alex Gutjahr conducting, with Jon Eaton as Jack Jack Skellington.

What’s this? As the witching hour arrives and the undead begin to cross paths with hambone Don Drapers, hilarious never-nudes, scantily clad nuns and legions of Marios and Luigis, local trumpet pro, teacher and performer Alex Gutjahr brings a little Christmas — the Burton brand — to the trick-or-treat mix.

Gutjahr and his 15-piece orchestra bring The Nightmare Before Christmas alive for a third year running this weekend at O Patro Vys. Tonight, he premieres the French-language version, and Saturday night hails the return of the English show, which sold out the venue last Halloween.

The music and dialogue remain faithful to the flick, but Gutjahr, a Concordia music grad, conceived of the project more as a challenge to himself than a huge fan of the film.

“When I was in school, my arranging teacher said that you had to write 25 arrangements for any given ensemble to be good at it, so I am getting there with this group,” he says, adding that he takes hardly any liberties with the  cherished piece of pop culture fabric, particularly Danny Elfman’s original compositions.

“Everything is in the original key. I have 15 musicians instead of 30 or 40 that would have been in the studio, so I have to make some instrumentation choices. I might shorten some intros, because we are playing the show as a concert, not a theatrical piece.”

The O Patro Vys shows are very much intended as dress-up, drink-up, have-fun Halloween shows, and have traditionally been populated by crowds in thematic attire and spirit.

On Sunday, a first-ever 3 p.m. matinée for parents and children alike takes place at Westmount Park Church, with plenty of other Halloween-y treats like face painting and a haunted house on deck for the kids.

This year, Gutjahr is also proud to open his show with the debut of Franco Proietti’s Elfman-esque “Suite For A Small Frightened Child,” which he also arranged. He credits the musicians and singers alike for their own commitment to his project despite limited rehearsal opportunities, as well as scheduling challenges.

So does he get a spooky thrill from the unpredictable factors?

“This is the only show I’ve ever conducted, so I don’t really know the difference,” Gutjahr offers. “At one point last year, there was some hooting — I believe from Franco’s sister — just as I was about to start a movement.”

“I like doing the work and presenting an entertaining show,” he says. “It is more [that] I have faith in the people I work with. I am not a director or a vocal coach — I don’t like to micro manage in areas I don’t know.” ■

The Nightmare Before Christmas goes live this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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