Review: ‘Superman’ in Concert Evokes Potent Feelings at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

The 'Superman' in concert event awed attendees with John Williams' timeless score on Friday, March 15th at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Calif. Photo credit: DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment

On Friday, March 15th, LA Philharmonic’s presentation of Superman in Concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall was as exultant as expected. Over the span of 143 joyous minutes, Richard Donner’s 1978 classic picture and John Williams’ iconic score never felt more potent, powerful, and ever-present. With nostalgic visuals being girded by the outstandingly lush sounds of the LA Phil, sentimental feelings were elicited for those who recalled one of Hollywood’s progenitor superhero blockbusters; and, for those being introduced for the inaugural time, there was no better setting to be galvanized by one of comic books’ most celebrated figures.

The LA Phil and Walt Disney Concert Hall are certainly no strangers to the film concert experience, having put on a collection of performances highlighting the very best in cinema from both a visual and aural standpoint. From On the Waterfront, to Home Alone, and Psycho, among others, there is an undeniable appreciation to be had upon witnessing an assembly of musicians take the live reins of a movie’s instrumentals, which customarily comes out of speakers and oftentimes takes a backseat to the narrative.

Superman, on the other hand, would not have risen to its historic heights if not for Williams’ transcendently sonic contributions, none more recognizable than the “Main Title March,” which remarkably became a popular single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and is a tune that most can hum upon command.

Approximately 47 years ago, Williams surprisingly found himself at the piano when fellow composer Jerry Goldsmith left the DC Comics project. And what a serendipitous turn of events it was as Williams’ Superman suite, comprised of numerous memorable pieces, has become synonymous with the fantasy of an honest, deity-esque figure protecting and encouraging the good in humanity. A cogent reason for the score’s cachet is that Williams ingeniously uses leitmotifs throughout his composition like an expertly wielded paintbrush, rendering Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel character as much as his blue, red, and yellow crime-fighting costume does.

John Williams’ emotive Superman (1978) score was played to perfection by the LA Phil during a Superman in concert event on Friday, March 15th at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Calif. Photo credit: LA Phil

The allegory and astral ride begin when baby Kal-El (Superman’s real name) is sent by pod to Planet Earth (specifically Smallville, KS) because his native planet Krypton is collapsing. The baby, who becomes a boy in transit and is adopted by a couple, is named Clark Kent who, upon discovering his extraordinary purpose, takes a job as a reporter with Metropolis’ Daily Planet. Kent meets his love interest in colleague journalist Lois Lane, but things aren’t copacetic for long as criminal magnate Lex Luthor aims to decimate the California coast. For a Disney Concert Hall audience well-aware of the nightmarish potential of the San Andreas Fault, this is an especially engrossing hook. Not to mention, with Williams’ soundtrack echoing like never before, there are ample justifications to become even more swooned by Christopher Reeve’s indelible Kent/Superman, Margot Kidder’s Lane, Marlon Brando’s Jor-El (Superman’s father), and Gene Hackman’s roguish, but cheeky, Luthor.

Undoubtedly, the premise and special effects still hold up as they should, given the fact that Superman was purportedly the priciest film to make, at $55 million, up until that point in history. It goes without saying that Superman pioneered the modish “origin story,” which countless films within its genre thereafter, especially in the last twenty years, have taken inspiration from.

Those in attendance, many of whom wore Superman-themed outfits, were energetic and receptive to the commemoration of the renowned science-fiction chronicle. As the blue-beamed opening credits rolled, attendees whistled and roared approvingly of the orchestra which brilliantly resounded with the stirring ebbs and flows of the titular theme, inclusive of the identifiable crashing cymbals at the end of select musical phrases.

When the scene shifted to Krypton, LA Phil’s dignified performance of “The Planet Krypton” was fittingly interpolated with an adamant ominousness. “The Destruction of Krypton” suggested an impending sense of ruin counterbalanced by a promise of a better future. When teenaged Clark Kent uncovers his green crystal and embarks on his self-developmental trek, “The Fortress of Solitude” inside the acoustics-friendly venue indicated a melancholic majesty but a cautious optimism.

Principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins, led the LA Phil in its recreation of John Williams’ exultant score of the 1978 Superman film on Friday, March 15th at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA. Photo credit: LA Phil

Additionally, the orchestra, precisely the brass section, flawlessly realized the jaunty campiness of “Lex Luthor’s Lair.” The string and woodwind sections, as well as the assigned harp player, also movingly left a mark with the buoyant and beautiful “Love Theme” as Superman and Lois Lane flew, hand in hand, over Metropolis’ clouds. When Superman’s idealism is dashed by a possibly gruesome reality, the LA Phil members strung a series of emotionally resolute and purposeful notes in “Turning Back the World,” before finally returning guests to an all-is-right-in-the-world denouement overlooking Earth during the “Finale and End Title March.”

At the helm of the LA Phil for this unique occasion was Hollywood Bowl Orchestra principal conductor Thomas Wilkins. Without Wilkins’ steady hand and expertise, the diverse musicians wouldn’t have been able to stay in perfect time with the moving images as seamlessly as they did all the while reading and manifesting Williams’ notations.

Few would surmise that, at least on paper, a viewing of a film from the late 1970s, along with its score being played live, would have such an all-encompassing impact. But there is something to be said for Superman’s unifying ethos combined with the metamorphically harmonious dynamics of Williams’ poignant tones. If Kryptonite weakens Superman’s powers, Williams’ soul-rousing music — materialized sumptuously as it was on March 15th by Wilkins and the LA Phil — replenishes him, tempering him against inimical forces.

For details and to purchase tickets to future events at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, visit


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