Billie Eilish had herself in stitches — the drawn-on kind — as she very solemnly voiced the barely-sewed-up Sally in two weekend live-to-film performances of the music for “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” bringing new life to Danny Elfman’s perennially undead L.A. Halloween tradition.
Being revived as a concert event for the first time in three years — but this time over two nights at L.A.’s newish Banc of California Stadium, a bigger venue than the shows’ previous home at the Hollywood Bowl — the “Nightmare Before Christmas” shows featured Elfman reviving his lead role of Jack Skellington (and a brief turn as the supporting character Barrel), Paul Reubens and Ken Page reviving their original 1993 turns as Lock and Oogie Boogie, and “Weird Al” Yankovic doing Shock for the first time.
Naturally, though, some of the audience only had eyes for the young pop superstar joining Yankovic as a newcomer to the occasional concert franchise, Eilish — even though her one solo number, “Sally’s Song,” lasts a grand total of 1:47 on the soundtrack. Eilish also returned for a duet part with Elfman on the closing “Finale/Reprise,” joining hands with both the singer-composer and his avatar, a giant animatronic figure of Skellington. (Watch an excerpt from her performance, below.)
Along with the “stitches” on her arms to reflect the lovelorn character’s Frankenstein-ian origins, Eilish wore an original dress that looked like a high-fashion variation on a ragdoll look. Taking the place of original soundtrack singer Catherine O’Hara (who voiced the role on stage the last time the production was mounted, for three nights at the Bowl in 2018), the pop star proved an ideal vocal fit for the heartsick ballad, making it as sweet as it was short — in her hands, a tune that could almost fit in between “When the Party’s Over” and “I Love You,” a couple of equally austere ballads that could have been right up Sally’s alley.
(Eilish is not the only avant-pop star to be stricken with Sally; Fiona Apple voiced the part on a bonus disc 2006 reissue of the soundtrack album, though she hasn’t yet been coaxed to perform the role live.)
Reubens, who acted as voice talent for producer Tim Burton in “Nightmare” after playing the lead role in two Pee-Wee Herman movies, put on a red fright wig for the occasion, while Yankovic had what could only be mistaken for one from a distance. They were joined for the occasion of the menacing “Kidnap the Sandy Claus” by a pin-striped Elfman, at his most manic.
Page was also an audience favorite, having lost none of the steamroller qualities that made his part “Oogie Boogie’s Song” land alongside Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors” as one of the great scary-comic baritone turns in musical-comedy creature-feature history.
After the film wrapped up, Elfman returned and said, “When I wrote the Oogie Boogie song and I heard Ken Page audition fo the first time, it was an instantaneous ‘That’s exactly what I wrote it for.’ However, that being said, I’d still like to do it with my own little twist, if you don’t mind.” He proceeded to do an encore version that brought out more of his ’20s/’30s love of jump-and-jive jazz, with John Mauceri no longer conducting to a movie click-track but turning to Elfman to make sure it was the singer he was keeping in time with. Elfman turned loose-limbed for the length of the number to go full-on sinister-Cab-Calloway.
After that exit, the lights remained down, as much of the crowd knew what was coming but some departed, a random test guitar squall indicating that, sure enough, the evening would end with a non-“Nightmare” nightmare: “Dead Man’s Party.” The Oingo Boingo after-life classic was the theme song of the annual Halloween shows Elfman’s former group used to do in the 1980s and ’90s before the group broke up and that tradition got supplanted (in non-annual years) by this one.
The big band — that is, the orchestra — played on, but Mauceri’s epic crew was joined for “Dead Man” by an actual rock band, in the form of Matt Chamberlain on a drum kit brought out at far stage right, Stu Brooks on bass and, joining Elfman on guitar, fellow ex-Boingo member and longtime Elfman orchestrator Steve Bartek.
Did this lineup foretell what Elfman might bring to Coachella in April, if he is able to keep the invitation the festival previously issued for him to come out and do his first live rock performances in decades? Perhaps, although Elfman didn’t make any mention of what else they might be assembling for. Elfman introduced that encore Sunday as “a little Halloween trick or treat for you. Because you gave up trick or treating tonight, and I really appreciate that.”
Even though Elfman has made it clear in interviews (like the one he did with Variety earlier this year for his album “Big Mess”) that he’s not someone who has a need to perform on concert stages, he seemed exultant in the occasion, saying the shows were “making me feel almost like life has returned.” Even after the shows went on sale in the spring, he admitted,” I honestly didn’t think it would happen. There were so many reasons it wouldn’t. then here we are. We’re doing this, right? And it’s live. We’re not even streaming it from a stage somewhere.”
The weekend shows were produced, as they had been at the Bowl in previous years, by Elfman’s managers, Laura Engel and Richard Kraft, who’ve also put on live-to-picture presentations of “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” with Disney concerts.Alison Ahart Williams, Tim Fox and Georgina Ryder of AMP Worldwide also produced.