Brilliant animation and slapstick humor certainly define the Looney Tunes, but it is impossible to imagine the images on screen without classical music. From What’s Opera, Doc? to Rhapsody Rabbit, Bugs Bunny and company have introduced generations of audiences to the wonders of the classical repertoire.
Emmy-winning conductor George Daugherty was also inspired by classical music in the Looney Tunes. In 1989, Daugherty was living in Chicago. In addition to serving as the music director of Ballet Chicago, he was working on animated scoring projects when he revisited the Looney Tunes on VHS. “I was doing a lot of concerts in those days to bring new audiences in the concert hall. I thought [cartoons] would be a perfect platform for that.”
Daugherty immediately knew that in order to present this music live, the cartoons would need to be projected on a large screen. “These cartoons didn’t start on Saturday morning television – they started in movie theaters and are timed to be seen by a large audience,” Daugherty notes. “The laughter and the applause is all really the fourth wall of the sound design.”
Eventually, a touring program called Bugs Bunny at the Symphony was created. “We started in 1990 with a season on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre,” says Daugherty, “and every performance was sold out with lines around the block. We realized we had something.”
Since then, over 250 orchestras worldwide have presented the program, reaching over 3 million people. On Saturday, January 18, Daugherty and the Warner Bros. Symphony Orchestra will present two concerts at Symphony Center celebrating the 30th anniversary of the program.
Daugherty says that audiences can expect some new additions to the program. “Warner Bros. is doing 1,000 minutes of new Looney Tunes to celebrate Bugs Bunny’s 80th birthday. We have two of them in this show, including Wet Cement with Porky and Daffy. There is also Dynamite Dance with Bugs and Elmer Fudd set to The Dance of the Hours from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.”
Daugherty also celebrates the multi-generational appeal of this program. “There are so few entertainment experiences that play equally well to kids and adults. Kids see cartoons as hysterically funny; adults who have more life experience find the satire and wit in them. And Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn were the real deal in terms of composition. The Wagner music is huge, and it’s perfectly Rossini in The Rabbit of Seville. The humor is timeless – it’s exciting to still be doing this after 30 years.”