'La La Land' in Concert at the Hollywood Bowl Proves a Bountiful Feast for the Eyes and Ears

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land.
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Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. 

What better place to kick off La La Land in Concert: A Live to Film Celebration than the Hollywood Bowl? After all, Damien Chazelle’s 2016 film is a love letter to the City of Angels and the Bowl serves as one of Los Angeles’ most beloved and iconic landmarks. 

Friday night’s (May 26) concert, conducted by the film’s Oscar-winning composer Justin Hurwitz, was a bountiful feast for the eyes and ears, while never veering into sensory overload. 

The Hollywood Bowl will play host to the film again tonight (May 27) before the event goes on tour across the U.S., as well as dates in the U.K., Canada, Mexico, Italy, Turkey and Switzerland.

Here are several highlights from opening night:

The score: This may seem obvious, but hearing Hurwitz’s score live and at a louder level than it appeared in the movie showed off its delicacy and inherent sweetness. There’s a lightness to many of the cues, but also a poignancy that shone throughout. 

The presentation: There’s a very intentional “Golly Gee” feel to La La Land as Chazelle pays homage to the classic Hollywood musicals of the 1950s. That feel was realized beautifully in the presentation at the Bowl, with the Bowl becoming a character in the evening. The bandshell often lit up to match the colors on the screen — during “Someone in the Crowd,” which features Emma Stone’s character, Mia, and her friends preparing for a party — the bandshell lit up to match the primary colors of their dresses — or the sky in the scene at the Griffith Observatory would expand to the roof of the Bowl. When fireworks went off in the movie, they’d go off for real at the Bowl. The production was colorful, expansive and utterly charming. The large screen behind the orchestra showed the film, as did two side screens, but when the orchestra kicked in, the side screens would switch to the live musicians in a way that was entertaining and never distracting.

The orchestra: Is there anything better than hearing a film score performed live by many of the original musicians who played on the recording? The answer is yes, if they are joined by some very special guests. Trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval played the trumpet parts throughout the film, dazzling the audience with his melodicism and proficiency. In the scene when Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, takes Mia to the Lighthouse Cafe to experience “real jazz,” the bandshell lit up with the words “The Hollywood Bowl Cafe featuring Arturo Sandoval.” As wonderful as Sandoval was, the MVP Award goes to pianist Randy Kerber, whose work carries the score. 

Degree of difficulty: Orchestras playing live to film are not new, but La La Land comes with a degree of difficulty that expands beyond the typical presentation. Because La La Land is a musical, the orchestra was not only tasked with playing the score, they played live during the musical numbers to the taped vocals. As Hurwitz explained before the screening started, “the movie’s going to keep going and it’s not going to stop, so we have to keep up.” For the most part, their timing was impeccable and the few cases where it wasn’t just brought home that we were seeing a living, breathing presentation. 

The immersive experience: As those who have seen it will recall, La La Land opens with the ensemble number “Another Day In the Sun," which takes place on a highway. As the scene filled the screen, many of the vocalists who sang on the soundtrack appeared on stage, dressed in the outfits their characters wore in the film, to sing the opening number, joined by skateboarders and dancers all colorfully attired. During “Start a Fire,” the crackling tune performed by John Legend’s band, real backup singers came on stage to shimmy and sing. This was a 3-D experience in every way. To get everyone in the mood as they entered, there was an exhibit of costumes from the film, as well as a red carpet with a backdrop from the film, in front of which the fans could pose.