Brian Jacobson

Video Games Live! at the Riverside Theater

By - Feb 5th, 2008 02:52 pm

When entertainment industry icon Tommy Tallarico met fellow composer Jack Wall while assigned to collaborate on the video game Evil Dead: Hail to the King back in 2000, the two shared their dream – to bring video game music to a larger audience and bring it into its own as a veritable art form.

“In Japan for many years they put on a show, not just a symphonic concert of

music but a hybrid of entertainment,” says Tommy Tallarico.

Their friendship and partnership developed into Mystical Stone Entertainment, which teamed up with Clear Channel in July 2005 to hold the first major video game music concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The overwhelming response prompted Clear Channel to order up an ill-fated tour, which they soon dropped.

That was a big mistake for Clear Channel; it allowed the original team to regain control of the promotion and tone of what is now a famous world tour that played 29 dates last year, including a historic and huge three-day run in Brazil. In 2008 the tour includes 60 dates (in 2009, at least 200), one of which is Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 1.

“I get parents coming up to me after the show or emailing me saying, ‘I finally get it now. I get why my kid is into these games – they have these sweeping storylines and graphics and sound’,” says Tallarico.

The show has found great success with renowned orchestras internationally after some measure of convincing music directors that the repertoire was more than just boops and beeps – music directors who might not buy the argument that the theme music from Pac-Man (which debuted stateside 28 years ago) is as much a part of the music lexicon as Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter.

“The biggest challenge is convincing people,” states Tallarico. “Gamers get it. But it’s a small industry in the symphony world and so one concert master will tell another about it and the word of mouth spread.”

But behemoths like the National Symphony in Washington D.C. or London Symphony Orchestra aside, most city symphonies have been looking for ways to bring younger audiences into the concert hall seats. With Video Games Live, each show’s set list is different, and the program is always trying out new gimmicks on stage. Tallarico and Wall’s team create an event that takes on the air of Cirque du Soleil or the Blue Man Group at times with full-scale Tron cycles, big screen displays coordinated with the music and audience participation or giveaways. Milwaukee’s performance will be tailored around the Pabst venue’s capabilities.

Each city is emailed the sheet music and sent mp3s showing how the themes from Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, Gauntlet and Earthworm Jim will be translated for epic scale with horns, strings and percussion. Some arrangements are symphonic interpretations while other more modern fare like Advent Rising (which Tallarico composed) and Halo already have their compositions set from the original. The response even from non-video game enthusiasts to the music has been surprising.

“There has been a great support system from the gaming industry,” says Tommy Tallarico. “Koji Kendo from Nintendo, for example, gave us the exact arrangement of music.”

Concertgoers are encouraged to dress up as part of contests and early arrivals will find video game demos and maybe even some meet-and-greets with game designers and composers. Tickets at the venerable Pabst Theater run from $30 to $75 dollars, and a few audience members, selected at random, will be invited on stage to play a video game while the orchestra plays with them. The winner could even win a $2,500 AMD Ferrari Laptop.

“We’re always putting in new elements,” says Tallarico enthusiastically. “Snow machines and bubble machines, LED displays. We were the ones to debut the new Halo, we were there with Blizzard promoting it. Just recently we added Bioshock …”

What will come next for Video Games Live? No one knows – perhaps the major selling point of VGL is that you’ll have to leave your house to find out.VS

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit The Riverside Theater online or the official website of Video Games Live. Here’s an example of the kind of stuff you’ll see:

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