Beethoven on Wednesday, Bugs Bunny on Friday: One needs no better proof of the power of the Hollywood Bowl to be all things to all people. The surviving bits of Deco design — the orchestral shell and the sculpture at the entrance — stir memories of some grand bygone movie palace. An evening of vintage Warner Bros. animations, presented before a cheering capacity crowd, heightened the illusion.
Actually, the Bowl serves as subtext in several of these “Merry Melodies” and “Looney Tunes,” as these inspired insanities were variously titled. Ferocious Elmer Fudd pursues Bugs Bunny through the Bowl’s labyrinthine backstage at the start of the 1950 “The Rabbit of Seville”; in the 1949 “Long-Haired Hare” Bugs metamorphoses onstage into a hilarious mirror image of Leopold Stokowski, the world’s most recognizable symphonic conductor at the time.
Two of Warner’s looney geniuses, master animator Chuck Jones and art director Maurice Noble — both lustily cheered at their Bowl bows — produced some of their best work in their classical takeoffs, including the stupendous Wagnerian gloss in 1957’s “What’s Opera, Doc?” (“kill the wabbit, kill the WAAA-bit!”) and the delicious 1960 abstract “High Note”; both, along with “Seville” and “Long-Haired Hare,” were included on the generous Bowl program.
The single laserdisc “Looney Tunes Curtain Calls” on Warner Home Video contains 14 of their “classical” items, each obviously the work of artists aware of both the grandeur and absurdity of “serious” art, each funnier than the last.
For the Bowl presentation, the original movie sound was fed onto a mono track , which the stereo sound of the live orchestra, playing along in remarkably accurate synch, was allowed to overpower.
Projection was onto an amply proportioned 30-by-22 1/2-foot screen, with additional video monitors down front.
The visuals were fine, the sound not quite; now and then the live music outweighed the characters’ voices.
True believers, of course, knew the words by heart; for the others, subtitles might have helped.