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‘Godfather’ With Live Orchestra Draws 5,000 to L.A.’s Nokia Theatre

Saturday night’s screening of “The Godfather” with live orchestra was an offer that 5,000 L.A. moviegoers couldn’t refuse. Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning 1972 classic unspooled with a 61-piece orchestra performing the original score by Nino Rota and Coppola’s composer father Carmine.

Justin Freer conducted the Hollywood Studio Symphony, which performed flawlessly and, impressively, without the need for a “click track” (a metronome-like device often used in film scoring to keep musicians precisely in sync).

The orchestra, dressed in “mob” black, was tastefully lit beneath the main screen at L.A. Live’s Nokia Theatre. Two other screens, flanking the stage, offered better views for audiences across the theater and in levels above.

The enthusiastic audience ranged from 20-something cinema buffs to seniors who recalled seeing the film in theaters four decades ago. They responded to the famous lines (“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” and especially “leave the gun, take the cannoli”) with knowing laughter and applause.

This was only the fourth time “The Godfather” had been done with live musical accompaniment. Earlier showings occurred at London’s Royal Albert Hall, where it premiered on Dec. 8, and two nights at San Francisco’s Davies Hall earlier this month — all sold-out performances.

Additional U.S. shows are scheduled this year with the Chicago Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony and the New York Philharmonic, while a two-month European tour will commence in the fall.

Rota’s iconic themes and musical moments (the dramatic trumpet solo that opens the “Godfather Waltz,” the love theme for scenes of Michael’s exile in Sicily) were only part of the evening’s musical interest.

The wedding music (mostly written by the senior Coppola) is filled with lively, Sicilian-flavored melodies played by such traditional instruments as accordion and mandolin. A separate vocal track enabled the orchestra to accompany Al Martino live during his famous rendition of “I Have But One Heart” at Carla’s wedding.

Big-band sounds accompanied the late-1940s transitions to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. And director Coppola’s brilliant use of Bach organ preludes for the mob-hit montage during the christening of Michael’s godson was more effective than ever, given the rich sound mix at the Nokia.

Most of the crowd stayed through the end-title sequence in order to give Freer and the orchestra – an A-list band of top-notch studio players – a standing ovation.

Freer restored the score from materials he found in the Paramount music archives. “For me,” he told Variety before the show, “it was an opportunity to rebuild a very important piece of history and share that history with people in a unique way. It’s brilliant music.”

But for those who didn’t want to brave the traffic or parking nightmares that can accompany any downtown sojourn, “The Godfather Part II” was screening at exactly the same time at LACMA’s Bing Theater. Except they didn’t have a 61-piece orchestra playing live.

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