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ELOISE AT THE PLAZA and
ELOISE AT CHRISTMASTIME
Splendid award-winning family music, full of life, from a wonderful composer
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Eloise Productions, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
There's hardly been a dud in Intrada's Signature Edition series, and the latest release is another gem, presenting Bruce Broughton's music for Eloise at the Plaza and Eloise at Christmastime - he won Emmy Awards for both - in a 2-CD set. When it was first announced a few people got a bit excited because it looked like Intrada had finally "broken" Disney, but it turns out that they weren't dealing with them, instead licensing directly from the film's production company (Handmade Films). The films are based on the popular children's books by Kay Thompson about a six-year-old resident at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and the mischievous adventures she experiences.
Broughton's music is quite delightful. For Eloise at the Plaza, director Kevin Lima asked him to write Mickey Mouse music, ie a cartoonish score directly following the various highs and lows in the story, and the composer duly obliged - but this is no incoherent mess (as sometimes these things can become), with Broughton instead drawing on his experience of scoring actual cartoons in the style to write a free-flowing, consistently-musical score which certainly "falls over when the character falls over" (to coin the phrase) but remains forever-coherent in the process. It's all anchored around a splendid main theme, an airy tune which instantly captures the mischief and adventure encountered by Eloise. It's all over the score, with Broughton making the most of his malleable theme. Its fullest presentation comes in the five-minute "The Eloise Waltz", an old-fashioned treat.
It's colourful, expressive music, full of charm and class. Broughton employs two distinct instrumental ensembles and alternates between them - the more playful music comes from a very small group, and the more "ceremonial" comes from a larger (though still somewhat chamber-sized) orchestra. There's a real 1950s New York City vibe about it, with a boundless joy and enthusiasm running throughout. While the score is divided into a very large number of cues (31 in a 42-minute score), surprisingly it doesn't sound at all "bitty", with cues naturally flowing into each other. It's lively, fast-paced, beautifully-performed music with a big heart. It only really goes serious once, in "Mom Listens", and what a piece that is, with a lilting guitar line and some beautiful wind solos bringing a really poignant feel.
The show was successful and spawned a follow-up a few months later, Eloise at Christmastime, with largely the same cast and crew. Broughton's score the second time round is rather different - he interpolates several Christmas favourites, most notably the Nutcracker Suite (the score's Overture is actually a clever blending of his own Eloise theme into Tchaikovsky's style). The score is played by a larger orchestra and is more wistful than the first, but once again it is full of charm and is consistently impressive. The main Eloise theme gets a lot of work, though this time round there is a new secondary theme (often played by piano) which is full of the glow of roasting chestnuts.
Years ago, Broughton was offered the chance to score Home Alone but turned it down (not, in retrospect, the best career choice - incredibly, the film grossed over $500m worldwide, compared with its $15m budget, and is amongst the top-25 grossing films ever) - I guess this allows us a slight glimpse into what he might have come up with, albeit for a more romanticised version of Christmas than the John Hughes comedy would have allowed. It's all fun music, and would make a lovely disc to play on Christmas morning as the kids are opening their presents, but there is something substantial to it, too - not to mention the magic of Christmas (or, just in case I offend anyone, the magic of a non-denominational event which transpires during the month of December).
Intrada's release is limited to 1,200 copies and, despite being so limited and so damned good, copies are still available at the time of writing. Snap one up fast - fans of Broughton, of magical family scores, or of quality music in general could find nothing to complain about.