By Dale King Contributing Writer
If you didn’t catch at least one of the shows at the 12th annual Festival of the Arts Boca which concluded its run at Mizner Park on March 4, you missed a big chunk of entertainment.
The playbill this year included comedy legend and cultural icon Bill Murray in a totally new role; Academy Award-winning composer T Bone Burnett, renowned opera singer Kathleen Battle; author and documentary film producer James Marshall and a couple of rising stars, violinist Chad Hoopes and pianist Nikolay Khozyainov.
The 10-day event that drew an estimated 15,000 people got off to something of a rough start. Violin virtuoso and former festival performer Itzhak Perlman was scheduled to present a concert of songs from his iconic album of Klezmer music, “In the Fiddler’s House.” But a medical emergency forced him to bow out of the Boca show and another at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
“We were all sad that Itzhak Perlman was sick,” said Festival Director Joanna Marie Kaye. “But the Klezmer all-stars, the performers who were going to play with him, were already here and they put on an incredible show. They had the audience up and dancing.”
Most of the festival ran like clockwork, with perfect weather blessing most performers. Noise from traffic outside the Mizner Park grounds, from cars, trains, motorcycles and the like did challenge the gallery to hear every word, note and musical tone emanating from the stage.
As the clock ran down, an ecstatic audience got to join in a 36th-year reunion with “E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial,” in a showing of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster film that seemed to have every kid in America during the 1980s repeating the cryptic line, “E.T., phone home.”
The nearly two-hour presentation continued the festival’s tradition of annually showing an acclaimed film with the music track wiped clean and replaced with live music provided by an on-stage orchestra. This year’s movie score by famed composer John Williams was erased and performed live by The Symphonia Boca Raton under the baton of Constantine Kitsopoulos. Overall, the effect was delightful.
In past years, the featured films presented with live accompaniment included “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “West Side Story,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Pink Panther” in 2017. Last year, Monica Mancini, daughter of Henry Mancini, who scored that film, visited the festival and sang tunes composed by famous father.
“E.T.” is known for its tear-jerker ending as the alien must say goodbye to the Earth family that has truly fallen in love with him: Gertie, played by an incredibly cute 7-year-old Drew Barrymore and Michael (Robert MacNaughton), her less-consumed with the alien older brother.
And then, the big goodbye scene with Elliott (Henry Thomas). E.T. asks Elliott to come with him. When Elliott says that he has to stay on Earth, E.T. touches his own heart and says, “Ouch.” Elliott tearfully does the same, and then hugs the heck out of E.T. while his family looks on.
The festival crowd exploded in cheers and tears as the credits rolled as Williams’ familiar “E.T.” theme played on.
Two nights earlier, Bill Murray found himself at the same venue, not to bust ghosts or whack moles. He arrived with a whole new vibe: Presenting poetry and prose readings along with classical music provided by cellist Jan Vogler, pianist Vanessa Perez and violinist Mira Wang. The program worked well when launched at Carnegie Hall last October, and played to a multitude of standing ovations at Mizner Park.
“People loved Bill Murray,” said Kaye. “And I was blown away by Peter Diamandis.” An international pioneer in the fields of innovation, incentive competitions and commercial space, he is also the co-founder and vice-chairman of Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), a genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic and therapeutic company focused on extending the healthy human lifespan.
Also part of the festival was author Hannah Tinti, known for her singular voice and her ability to weave elements of literary and genre fiction into her novels and short stories. She discussed her most recent book, “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley.”