Toronto Star ePaper

Home alone, TOGETHER

The music of the beloved 1990 Christmas movie is brought to life at the TSO this week. Olivia Stren, a McCallister super fan, rejoices

A couple of winters ago, during one of Toronto’s pandemic lockdowns, I escaped my house for a mentalhealth constitutional, leaving my husband on a conference call and my then six-year-old son, Leo, in the Ninth Circle of Hell (i.e. Kindergarten Zoom school). Upon my return, I discovered Leo bathing in a blue glow, obediently staring at his iPad screen. My delight at his apparent focus was compromised when I noticed what appeared to be a triangle smudged in red marker on his forehead.

“What’s happening?” I asked. “Math!” he chimed.

“No, I mean, what is that on your face?” I asked him. For a moment, I allowed myself to think perhaps he had taken some creative liberties and found a new canvas (as in, his visage) for a shapes-drawing lesson.

“I’m Marv!” he announced gleefully, referring to Daniel Stern’s imbecilic burglar in the 1990 Christmas hit “Home Alone.”

“It’s not a triangle! It’s an iron!” To those readers less well-versed in the film’s plot: In a classic scene, Marv is struck in the face with a clothes iron, leaving him with a triangular burn mark on his forehead.

Later, during “gym,” instead of doing jumping jacks, Leo spent the class time aerobicizing his facial muscles, lifting his eyebrows in the mirror like Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister.

He then took to theatrically — and, frankly, alarmingly — collapsing on the kitchen floor, pretending he had been impaled by cans of paint or a crowbar. If he wasn’t learning to spell, he was at least

learning to perfect the art of the stage fall.

He had also learned how to, um, embellish. When Leo finally went back to school, he convinced his friends that actor Daniel Stern was his grandfather. (My last name is Stren, and his pals bought it. At pickup one day, a mom approached me in the playground: “I understand your father’s an actor?”)

We have since watched “Home Alone” — and its quintet of followups — countless times. Every scene, outfit, trap, facial expression, oneliner, musical note and anguished scream in the original have turned into winter’s consoling ambient noise. The film provides the literal soundtrack to the season, too; instead of cosying up to carols or jazz standards, we listen faithfully to John Williams’ masterful film score.

My family is not, well, alone in our connection to the franchise. The 33-year-old film continues to enchant new generations of Kevinphiles, its popularity more resilient than its two-bit bandits. The holiday classic, written and produced by the late genius John Hughes — who gifted us with the ’80s teen dramedies “Sixteen Candles” and “Breakfast Club”— is strung with more winning lines than there are lights on Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree. (Some heartwarming classics: “Kevin, you’re such a disease!” “Don’t you know how to knock, phlegm-wad?” “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!” “You guys give up? Or are you thirsty for more?”

But much of the film’s enduring appeal comes courtesy of Culkin who somehow charmingly managed to be both innocent and sadistic, cherubic and Caligulas — never too cute or too confident.

If Culkin found just the right notes, so, of course, did Williams. The now-91-year-old composer and conductor has amassed 53 Oscar nominations over a seven-decade career and has brought us the theme music of “Jaws” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” along with the score for “E.T.” and “Star Wars.” His music, brilliant, uplifting, heart-filling, has become part of our collective musical memory — a sort of jukebox of childhood. Williams’ score for “Home Alone” emanates all the fireside warmth, celestial sweep, naughty-list mischief and chestnut-roasting (or clothes-iron-throwing and tarantula-tossing, as the case may be) nostalgia of the season.

Sleighbells, choir and the ethereal sound of the celesta are knitted throughout like the cables in Kevin’s nubby Christmas sweater. But the film’s musical heartbeat and crown jewel is the Oscar-nominated “Somewhere in my Memory” — all pine-scented cosiness and tinselled light, its notes floating with the softness and sparkle of fresh snow.

This weekend, my family is taking our “Home Alone” immersion live. At the TSO’s “Home Alone in Concert” — which runs Thursday to Sunday at Roy Thomson Hall — the orchestra performs and perfectly syncs the movie’s soundtrack to an audience of 2,000. The mood for these family-friendly concerts is festive and informal: popcorn, children and wine are all welcome.

Mark Williams, who was appointed CEO last April, and music director Gustavo Gimeno are reimagining and modernizing the TSO, dispelling preconceptions of the symphony as an exclusive pastime for the fusty. Their live film-score performances are helping rebrand the TSO — now in its 101st year — as approachable to broader, diverse audiences, even introducing orchestral music to the kind of people (children) who might be more inclined to listen to “It’s Raining Tacos” than to sit through, say, Wagner’s “Ring Cycle.”

Under Williams and Gimeno, the orchestra has performed the score to “Black Panther” and “Star Wars”; last month, Drake collabed with the TSO to drop surprise news of his new EP, “Scary Hours 3,” on Instagram; and this spring, the TSO will offer a concert of video-game music, introducing orchestra to gameheads.

Today, Leo is sick, spending the day at home (albeit not alone). He’s wearing Kevin-inspired plaid jammies, and a few snowflakes whirl around outside — perfect “Home Alone” viewing/listening conditions. I asked him if he was looking forward to the concert — his gazillionth time watching “Home Alone” and his first symphony experience — and he hoisted his eyebrows in approval.

Instead of cosying up to carols or jazz standards, we listen faithfully to John Williams’ masterful film score





Toronto Star Newspapers Limited