Music review: Bugs Bunny at the Symphony, Hamer Hall

Looney Tunes cartoons in orchestral swoon.

Those of us who grew up in the 1980s will have fond memories of getting up early in our pyjamas on a Saturday morning to watch Bugs Bunny, the rascally rabbit, elude the clueless hunter once again or drawl ‘What’s up Doc?’ in his inimitable way to the nonplussed black duck with anger management issues. Well, we got to relive our childhoods in this concert, with the animation blown up on a huge screen instead of the boxy TVs we used to sprawl in front of while eating sugary cereal. And instead of tinny audio quality, we were surrounded by the all-immersive sound of a live symphony in the plush surrounds of Hamer Hall.

To celebrate Warner Bros’ 100th Anniversary, Emmy award-winning composer and conductor George Daugherty conducted the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra playing the score of classic Looney Tunes cartoons to a mixed crowd of both adults and children. For the former, it was an unabashed nostalgia trip; for the Bluey generation, it may have been an introduction not only to the antics of the smarmy rodent and his allies and foes, but also to the majesty of classical music performed right in front of them by a large array of instruments.

Bugs Bunny at the Symphony has been touring the world with different orchestras since 1990. Those 30-odd years have honed the production values and this local iteration is as crisp and sharp as you would expect from an outfit as professional as the MSO.

The orchestra played along to such classic cartoons such as What’s Opera, Doc?, Rabbit of SevilleBaton Bunny and A Corny Concerto, as well as five new shorts, with well-known tunes like ‘The Blue Danube’ and the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. There was something particularly delightful about the juxtaposition of the sombre, all black-garbed musicians performing alongside the technicolour silliness of the animations. It’s a winning combination: gravitas and levity in the one night.

Bugs, of course, was the star, and featured in the majority of the animations, even having several chances to wield the baton with bombastic glee and conduct his own orchestra. Watching him again as an adult, it was interesting to note just how much of a gender-bender, cross-dresser he is, often adorning himself in a frock, and fluttering eyelashes to seduce and bamboozle his enemies.

If there’s one niggling complaint about this concert, it’s that there were too many Wile E Coyote and Road Runner shorts and not enough, or none at all, of some of the other Looney Tunes characters like Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, and Tweety and Sylvester. However, this is probably because the Coyote and Roadrunner features are wordless high-action pieces, so easy for a musical accompaniment to be overlaid, whereas the other characters rely more on speech for narrative progression.

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Nonetheless, Bugs Bunny at the Symphony was a joyous experience, a delight for all ages. It’s a pity it had such a short run.

Bugs Bunny at the Symphony was performed 27-29 April 2023.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on