Eh, ‘What’s Opera, Doc’?

3_be-my-wuvBradenton Herald — Can you imagine this scene: An orchestra full of professional, “serious” musicians dressed up in black and white? Their instruments in hand, ready to play on cue. Their eyes fixed on … a cartoon?!

Bugs Bunny no less.

Welcome to George Daugherty’s life. Week-after-week, for 20 years, the Emmy Award-winning conductor has experienced this.

He’s landed orchestras all over the world into this delightful set of circumstances as the creator and guest conductor of “Bugs Bunny on Broadway.”

He’ll do it again when he performs the show with the Sarasota Orchestra at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Bugs Bunny On Broadway” brings cartoons, musicians and cartoon lovers of all ages together to celebrate the golden age of Warner Bros. Studios — the masterminds behind that rascally rabbit. Presented are several Bugs classics — “What’s Opera, Doc?” “The Rabbit of Seville,” “The Ring Cycle” and others — on a big screen while the orchestra plays the musical score connected with each animated jewel.

The show has been a hit with audiences and, as you may have guessed, the musicians too.

“It’s funny because every time there’s a cartoon on — the orchestra can see the screen — and when I’m looking at the orchestra and we’re 30 seconds from the orchestra having to actually play again, you know the first thing I see is 75 heads swerving around to look at their music,” Daugherty said during a recent phone interview from California. “They’ve all been watching the cartoons, laughing. I hear as much laughter from the stage as I do from the audience, and that’s really fun.”

Daugherty dreamed up the concept for the show, which has been embraced world-wide, to feed his love for those memorable Looney Tunes classics and the composers behind them — Carl Stalling and Milt Frankly.

By picking one of the most recognizable cartoon figures in the world as the face of his show, the concept took off quicker than Bugs Bunny could say “What’s Up, Doc?”

Everywhere the show has been, it has packed concert halls. Just goes to show the power of music.

“One of the reasons why Bugs Bunny has been so hugely successful all over the world and transcends languages and boarders and everything else, is because the music does tell a huge amount of the story,” said Daugherty. “You know in our first act hardly any of the characters actually speak. The music really does all of the speaking. … I think that’s why it works so well for concerts because of that reason. It’s not background music; it’s foreground music.”

This is especially true during the chase scenes. In them, Bugs is the elusive prey of Elmer Fudd. The rabbit always manages to outlast and outwit the not-so-bright hunter and everyone else from the Looney Tunes gang. Of course, when Bugs is around, anything can happen. He may just take over the directing himself, like he does in the “Long Haired Hare,” which will also be featured in Saturday’s show.

Such cartoons were able to set the pace of the way music has been used in animation ever since — from Pixar’s “Wall-E” to Matt Groening’s “The Simpsons,” said Daugherty.

“You know ‘The Simpsons’” Matt Groening would be the first one to say Chuck Jones (who directed the Looney Tunes cartoons) was a huge influence in his development.”

After 20 years of performing these shows and many more years watching them as a youth, Daugherty said he hasn’t tired of them. In fact, every once in a while, he’ll see something new in the cartoons he’s never seen before. The cartoons are the type of entertainment that has endured through several generations and may continue for several more.

There’s so much more besides the music that keeps Daugherty coming back, though, he said.

“The thing that I’m most grateful to (the cartoons) for, and I mean this with sincerity, is that they are so brilliant you can watch them over and over again. And I can still look at these cartoons after 20 years of doing this concert and marvel in their brilliance, in their comical magnificence.”

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