I can remember back in the mid 1980s when my older brother and his best friend would sit in the living room of my parents’ house and play the “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” soundtrack album over and over and over again. I would look down from the hallway from my bedroom and watch them, sitting there with their eyes closed, waving their arms around as if they were the conductors of the orchestra as the music blared from the stereo speakers. I remember thinking to myself:
“Who on Earth would sit here and listen to instrumental soundtrack music for hours on end and enjoy it as much as these guys do?”
Fast forward a couple decades to the mid 1990s through present day and I can raise my hand and say that I am proudly one of those people. I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since soon after TMP was released but it took me a little longer to appreciate the fine music associated with it. Now, almost every day of the week you can find me at my desk at work or at my PC at home and chances are I will have some kind of Star Trek soundtrack playing. Whether it is from any of the televisions series or any of the movies, the music captivates me, relaxes me and make me daydream of being in that special universe that is Star Trek. As a matter of fact, as I sit down to write this review, I have the CD from “The Ultimate Voyage” playing in my headphones!
As part of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, people all over the world are being entertained by Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage, an amazing live orchestra symphony concert presented by CineConcerts. This unique experience partners a live orchestra with a giant view screen where clips from all of the Star Trek series and movies are put together for an incredible ride through 50 years of The Final Frontier! The show made its way through the Wang Theatre in Boston, MA on March 4, 2016 and I was thrilled to be there alongside my “Trek Geeks – A Star Trek Podcast” partner Bill Smith and our wives, Susan and Kelly.
How thrilled was I? Well we purchased the tickets way back in June of 2015 and I thought at the time that a 9 month wait was going to feel longer than trying to get home from the Delta Quadrant! I must admit there was a little apprehension on the whole idea of seeing the show because Bill has some anxiety about being in large open spaces or being around towering buildings. As the tickets we got were front and center on the first mezzanine, I was worried that it would be a bit too much for him. But he was all in, and after a little nervousness when we first arrived at our seats, he settled in and we had a wonderful night.
This was my first visit to the Wang Theatre and I must say it is quite impressive. From the dizzying height of the place to the intricate sculptures and decoration on the walls, it was no wonder some people could feel a bit uneasy when looking around. My only real complaint with the theatre is that the seats are horribly uncomfortable and quite tightly packed together. New England people will certainly know what I mean when I say that Fenway Park seats seem more comfortable. As 6 feet and well over 200 lbs, I was ecstatic when Intermission came through so I could stand up and stretch my legs! From our vantage point, we could see everything perfectly on the stage. Looking around at what appeared to be a capacity crowd, I think it is safe to say that all seats provided obstruction free viewing.
The stage decoration for this show was spectacular. The orchestra members were seated behind an arrangement of grey and purple panels that were designed to look like parts of a starship, or possibly a main bridge. Two percussion players were actually in front of the famous ‘horseshoe’ from Star Trek: The Next Generation! The lighting was soft an inviting with a lot of purple and blue tones (except during battle sequence music, when strobe lights and red alert flashes added to the sensory input). Above the orchestra was a gigantic 40 foot screen set in front of a wonderful starscape. Prior to the start of the show, ambient starship sounds set the tone for how spot on this performance was going to be.
As the lights dimmed and the members of the orchestra took their seats, it finally sunk in that I was about to see something that I had been waiting 9 long months for! Conductor Nicolas Buc took the stage in front of his digital tablet, complete with an LCARS interface, bowed to the audience, turned towards his team, raised his hands and I KNEW that next two plus hours were going to take me on emotional roller coaster that I would never forget! From the first note of Jerry Goldsmiths Motion Picture theme (which I always kind of had an issue of TNG taking it over), to the encore performance which included the famous Alexander Courage TOS theme that we have known for 50 years, every set was remarkable and the video that accompanied the music was perfectly put together.
As someone who has heard each soundtrack countless times, I always associate the song being played with the film, show or scene that it is normally associated with. ST:TUV almost completely throws this out the window by cutting together various scenes on the screen that were for the most part unrelated to the film the music originally from, which for me was exhilarating and fresh. With narration by TNG and DS9 veteran Michael Dorn, each series was given its own special place in the show. Actual scenes from the series and movies, complete with original dialogue actually helped amplify the music and somehow make it more powerful for battle sequences such as the battles with the Klingons or the destruction of the USS Defiant; or made it more poignant for more emotional scenes, like the tribute to Leonard Nimoy or Picard’s love of music and his Ressikan flute from “Inner Light”. Several times through the evening I had to remind myself that the music I was hearing was from a live orchestra and not the actual soundtrack CD or digital track that I had listened to hundreds of times over the years.
As mentioned, in additional to the each television series unique opening credit score, each series had their own special ‘tributes’ with the special brand of music that each series was known for. We watched Sisko lament over his actions in “In the Pale Moonlight”. We saw Captain Archer give his emotional speech which helped lay the groundwork for creating the United Federation of Planets in “Terra Prime”. Heck, we even watched the giant Jellyfishes reunite from “Encounter at Farpoint”. In a clever twist, Picard’s capture by the Borg and his transformation into Locutus were seen and heard with imagery and music from both “The Best of Both Worlds” and “First Contact”, which ended with the cliffhanger quote from Riker ordering Worf to fire on the Borg ship which led us into intermission. In all of these sequences, the music was breathtaking, powerful and on more than one occasion, brought tears to my eyes. The music was THAT good.
Where I thought it shined most brightly was when they played the actual full scores from two key scenes of TOS – the fight between Kirk and Spock from “Amok Time”, and the critical final moments of “The Doomsday Machine” when Kirk is trying to beam aboard the Enterprise before the Constellation is devoured by the Planet Killer. These two scores are instantly recognized by any Star Trek fan so to me, they had to be done right, and they were. Both of these performances were performed perfectly and never skipped a beat from what we were seeing on the big screen. Additional pieces flowed around specific themes, such as friendship, family, honor or loyalty. One of the highlights for me was listening to the music as Captain Kirk spoke about why crews are aboard starships in the first place. Another would have been Captain Archer comforting Mayweather over the recent death of his father. But, I must give a special nod to the young woman whose solo with the flute during the “Inner Light” suite caused tears to stream down my face for the ENTIRE song! As soon as I heard that first note, that was it! Instant blubbering, full grown adult male!
The concert lasted for close to two and a half hours (including intermission) and I was completely engaged and entertained for every second of this show. I will be honest – I have not been to many theaters to watch live performances. The only other professional stage production that I have been to in recent memory is the play “Wicked” which I enjoyed tremendously. However, as first and foremost a Star Trek fan, I can honestly say I don’t know what could EVER top this experience, unless it was another Star Trek themed show.
I have openly discussed in the past that Star Trek literally saved my life back when I was much younger. I needed a place to escape to for a while when things were at their darkest. In addition to the stories and the acting and all the things that went into making a TV show, the MUSIC has always been one of the greatest characters of this iconic genre. Star Trek has been an important part of my life since I was a preteen and has become only more important as I have grown older. From my perspective and for what Star Trek has meant to me, I cannot stress these words enough: If Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage is going to be coming to a venue close to you, do yourself a favor and do everything you can to experience this show. You will not be sorry.
Thank you for letting me share my thoughts on this wonderful evening that Susan, Bill, Kelly and I were able to experience together. It was pure magic.
Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage is on tour through September. Upcoming tour dates are available at startrekultimatevoyage.com.
(photos: Dan Davidson, Erika Goldring, Christie Goodwin, CineConcerts)