Does it feel like a renaissance of your performing career?
It was really a wonderful reminder of the best nights I had onstage when I was with my band, and it was very weirdly emotional.
So let’s go back a couple decades: Tim Burton approaches you and asks if you want to write a musical together.
Performing his role of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, Elfman will sing live to the film alongside a full orchestra, choir and co-stars Catherine O' Hara, Ken Page and Paul Reubens. You’ve said in the past that you’re not a big fan of revisiting your old work. I had a reason to go backwards—I had to create 15 orchestral suites for an evening.
How do you feel revisiting The Nightmare Before Christmas these last couple of years? One of the producers said, “What about getting up and singing a few songs from Nightmare? ” Then six months later, I called and said, “Did I say I was going to sing?
I felt very strongly, and Tim agreed, that these songs should try to find a kind of timeless place that’s not contemporary, even though I knew critics would skewer me for it.
My influences were going from Kurt Weill to Gilbert and Sullivan to early Rodgers and Hammerstein.
When I retired the [Oingo Boingo] in ‘95, everybody always asked me, Don’t you miss that? But if it was ever, “You’re going to do 30 days of shows nonstop in a row,” I probably wouldn’t do it.
Has the stage fright gotten better as you’ve gotten older? When I went out at Albert Hall [for the London Burton-Elfman concert in 2013], I found myself frozen at the stage door, literally thinking, I’m going to run down the alley and no one’s ever going to see me again.
They didn’t understand what it was, they didn’t know how to market it.
It was so against the grain of everything they knew to be an animated musical. But to their credit, they picked up on a pulse years later that this thing is still alive.
Regardless, it’s just that weird thing that sometimes happens where a film continues a kind of cult life after it comes out.