Geeking Out In Public: BSO Sci-Fi Spectacular with George Takei

Introduction: Literary Journalism from the Inside

I burned holes in the VHS of the original Star Wars trilogy. My uncle saw Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope seventeen times in the theater when it came out in 1977 because most homes didn’t have the technology to experience movies any time back then. My mother took my brother and I to see the midnight premiere of Episode I. Star Wars is a whole family thing for me.

My Saturday afternoons were filled with Gene Roddenberry television off-shoots. It’s safe to say that I’m a nerd. Movie posters plaster my walls. My other vehicle IS the Millennium Falcon. I am vocal about my hardcore love of sci-fi action movies and I will see as many as I can, no matter what B-movie status (looking at you Riddick) they achieve.

This article is about sharing an insider’s view of events that play to subcultures and fringes. It’s about being the die-hard and not just a spectator.

I’m geeking out in public.

Setting the Scene

The lobby of the Meyerhoff in Baltimore is flush with people. LED lights bathe the crowd in a shifting array of colors. Outside, the windows are plastered with the beaming face of pop culture legend George Takei amidst a backdrop of twinkling stars. Inside middle-aged patrons cluster in lounges with cocktails and wine. They wear suits, black cocktail dresses. A mother with wine-stained lips and smells of the trattoria down the street pulls a little girl by the hand as she follows her husband through the crowd. Mixed into the usual crowd of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra patrons are a strange emerging breed. Dyed hair, facial piercings, and casual clothes. Tartan Kilts. Star Trek flight deck uniforms?

It is clear that an alternative group has shown up in droves for this unique event. How often do East Coast residents get to see a legendary Sci-Fi actor in the flesh? This isn’t just anyone, but an actor who has managed to stay relevant in the fast-paced world of social media even as an octogenarian.

George. Mother-effin’. Takei.

A group of Star Wars characters pose for pictures at the entrance. Nerds cluster. Many of them are younger than those in cocktail attire. The usual symphony patrons hold back, but gaze curiously at the paparazzi-like frenzy by the entrance doors. The lobby lights start to flicker, signaling the imminent start of the show, and the crowd pushes through into the auditorium, including the costumed characters. It becomes clear that these are not paid actors or mascots, but rather a group of ticket-holders who decided to dress up in support of their fandom.

There is hushed buzz of silence as the lights go down and the stage lights up in a dazzling display of lasers and smoke. The deep thrum of sting instruments is heard and the show begins.

I don't think Quark's ever sold this one. (Photo by Madie Coe)

I don’t think Quark’s ever sold this one. (Photo by Madie Coe)

The Event

Sci-Fi Spectacular was, well, spectacular!

This is not the first time that the Sci-Fi Spectacular has hit the Baltimore area. The same cast assembled back in 2008 for the first performance, and since then quite a few regional orchestras around the country have hosted their own Sci-Fi Spectacular with George Takei. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by Conductor Jack Everly, occupied both the Strathmore and Meyerhoff for the extended weekend of February 20-23rd to bring the show back to the Baltimore/DC Metro area.

The show opened with the opening title of Star Wars to the cheers of an excited audience. Not the typical BSO performance, there were laser displays and smoke machines to accent the futuristic and stirring pieces of music. The show mostly played tribute to the various works of John Williams, and the golden era of Science Fiction television and films. An original arrangement by Jack Everly, “Lost in Syndication” led the audience through a medley of TVLand sci-fi; The Jetsons, My Favorite Martian, Lost in Space, etc.

The second act included music from the modern cinema counterparts to Star Wars and Star Trek, as well as six movements from the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, featuring George Takei performing alien Klaatu’s famous speech about peace and war, and the soloist Kristen Plumley’s unearthly vibrato as the sound effects of the spaceship wavering through the atmosphere. Overall, the quality of the music and orchestra was unparalleled.

The narration by George Takei was not present throughout the program, which I am sure disappointed many of the die-hard fans who were in attendance mostly for the chance to see him in the flesh, myself included. However, when he was “beamed in” with the effects of lasers towards the end of the first act, thunderous applause and cheers erupted for two minutes straight. If there’s ever a measure of success in this life, it’s that level of sheer excitement from people just happy to be in the same room as you. When he did get to speak, Takei recounted how he found himself with a role in one of the (THE?) most iconic sci-fi shows of all time. He is a man who loves his fans and was happy to play into their ecstasy as he recited the opening to the original Star Trek show as the orchestra played the first act out.

Other than wanting more of headliner George Takei, the production left nothing to be desired with stellar music, ethereal vocals, stunning visual effects, and a hand extended to sci-fi fandom.

Reception

Bringing the intense nature of Sci-Fi fandom together with the high-brow nature of the symphony provided an uplifting experience for all attendees. This was a rare chance for the dedicated nerds to experience the music of their favorite films with a live orchestra, the acoustics and majesty of which simply cannot be matched in a home stereo system. There’s a special energy to it which those who are not otherwise invested in live fine arts are not often privy to. I think it is the hope of event programmers that attendees who came because they were invested in the content, would develop an appreciation for live orchestra that would extend beyond the movies it came from.

During the performance, I heard a woman behind me speaking to her companion. Her eyes were closed and she was smiling, and said that she could see exactly what would be on screen if we were watching the part of the movie where that piece of music was playing. Experiencing something you love in a new way was a huge part of what this event was about.

Likewise, because of the age of many of the pieces, these are works of music and motion picture that have been around long enough to permeate mainstream culture. While the average symphony patron might have had only a superficial appreciation for them, there’s no doubt that they would have at least some familiarity with the works represented, and maybe go home with the desire to discover the classic films and shows.

One middle-aged couple I talked to were subscribed members to the BSO concert series, and had attended other events such as the BSO accompanying live a silent Charlie Chaplin film, and more classical events like Handel’s Messiah. They had seen many of the movies and even remember watching the original Star Trek on television, but didn’t necessarily consider themselves fans. They were amused by the die-hards in costume, but appreciative, yet had no desire to stay for the galactic themed post-performance party.

Still, this was a classier affair and the orchestra-uninitiated audience was respectful of the musicians and took cues from the symphony crowd about when to be vocal about their excitement. This was definitely not your typical symphony event, but the alternative crowd brought out an aura of mutual love from the audience. It wasn’t hard for those who were not die-hard fans to be swept up in the verbal appreciation at referential in-jokes.

"Aren't you little cultured for a Stormtrooper?"

“Aren’t you little cultured for a Stormtrooper?” (Photo by Madie Coe)

Fandom

The movers and shakers of this event clearly had the fandom in mind when planning. The featured soprano soloist appeared in cosplay as both a Star Trek officer and Princess Leia.

The prize of one of those high-quality lightsaber reproductions (I hesitate to say “toy) was given out for the person that could name at least 4 of the shows featured in the “Lost in Syndication” arrangement.

This show was definitely for the fans, by some fans.

During the intermission, I saw an usher invite the Boba Fett cosplayer backstage. The intermission opened with him starting on stage until conductor Jack Everly informed him that “these were not the musicians you are looking for” with a wave of his hand. He was escorted offstage to laughter and applause. I can only imagine that as a cosplayer, that moment would be a dream come true. This impromptu addition showed how far the producers of the event were willing to go for the fans.

Jack Everly announced the Cantina Theme from Star Wars was the greatest song ever written, startling the audience to laughter as it was not in the written program. Everly’s introduction to the pieces of music showed a great understanding of the origins of sci-fi in cinema and the theme of cosmic travelers far from home. He also shared stories of his personal connections to the pieces of music, including when he and teenage friends went to see E.T. on a whim and ending up crying for the poor little guy. It was a great reminder that everyone in attendance bought tickets because they shared a love for either powerful music or the stirring stories that those pieces of music helped create.

The core audience for the event was clearly those who grew up watching these shows and movies, and those who continued to discover them in later decades. These works helped shape American pop culture as we know it today, but there is still a special place for those who connected to and absolutely fell in love with the stories, and they turned out in abundance that night. The show ended with the Vulcan salute and address “live long and prosper”. This show played to fans, and not down to them from the level of high art.

Is this Fringe Event for you?

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Sci-Fi Spectacular with George Takei was rife with those happy to fly their geek flag high, but not inaccessible to those more conservative about their interests. It didn’t require much of an open mind, just a mutual appreciation of film and cinematic music.

If a regional orchestra near you decides to bring Sci-Fi Spectacular to the stage, it’s a fringe event with mass appeal that you won’t want to miss.

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Post By Madie Coe (12 Posts)

Deadshirt staff writer.

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