Review: The Composer Is Dead!

By Alexandra Talifero

‘The Composer is Dead’ is a fabulous murder-mystery story, written and composed as an orchestral presentation by Lemony Snicket and Nathaniel Stookey in 2006. It was principally designed as an entertaining, educational piece for children to learn about the world of traditional concert orchestras.

Originating in San Francisco and playing sold-out shows throughout the US, it debuted yesterday at the Sydney Opera House. Principals for the matinee performance were the talented Sydney Youth Orchestra in combination with slapstick Australian comedian Frank Woodley, playing ‘Your Charming Host’ and the ‘Inspector’.

The stage was awash with instruments and the concert hall was packed with families and friends. The house lights dimmed at precisely three o’clock with a hush of eager anticipation – it was show time.

The one-hour performance was a contrast of two educational styles, and divided into two pieces. The first was Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra’, an invigorating composition designed to showcase every instrument on stage. The 20-minute prelude gave the audience a familiarity of what instrument was being played and by whom. It also demonstrated how well the Sydney Youth Orchestra could play in such a fabulous venue.

Then, the main performance. A quick costume change into a classic ‘Clousteau’ costume, after which Woodley delivers the awful news: ’The composer is dead!’ The Inspector is determined to find the murderer and systematically questions each section of the orchestra as to their whereabouts. Every instrument or group performs again, but on this occasion, the narration and comedy provide the audience with more insight into the character traits of each instrument. The ‘Strings’ section is the largest and considered to be the most important section of the orchestra, whilst the ‘Chellos’ play the boring (but fundamental) bass notes, and find it hard to fit their instrument in a taxi.

What adds to the intrigue is that every instrument has a plausible alibi.

“The Composer is Dead” is a vibrant and perfectly crafted piece showcasing amazing musical and acting talent. It is a punchy, witty, classic ‘who done it’, all wrapped up in Monty Pythonesque comedy to keep the kids (and adults) informed and entertained. It’s a must see.

Featured image: “The Composer is Dead” … vibrant and perfectly crafted. Photo: Alexandra Talifero

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