The Scoring Session / Four Color Television Crossover Special - The Music of The CW

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The Scoring Session


The Music of The CW

Each month on The Scoring Session we look at the fascinating and complex role musical score plays in the narrative of motion pictures, and today we’re going to shift that focus to the four-color television series’ of The CW.

In a feature length film a composer is given a finite story that they create thematic music for, in our first issue of The Scoring Session we explored John Williams’ score for Superman: The Movie which was broken down into the following themes: The Krypton Theme, The Smallville Theme, The Metropolis Theme, The Lex Luthor Theme, The Superman Theme and The Love Theme.  It is one of the most finely crafted film scores ever made, and it serves as a template for other superhero films that come after, but it had the benefit of the movie being complete.  

Unless we’re talking about a mini series, television series composers don’t have the luxury of scoring a completed project – so how does one approach creating a score for a show like Arrow or The Flash?

Blake Neely, composer of all the DC CW television universe shows, approached his scores by creating versatile overall themes for the series that could double as both action set pieces for the shows themselves and as main themes for the lead character.  For the dark and brooding Arrow he created a synth and strings heavy percussive score that represents the street level vigilantism of Oliver Queen. The other score elements of the series in its pilot phase and throughout the course of the last six years have grown out of this simple dramatic motif.

Brought in to create the theme for The Flash two years later, Neely decided to create a score that is equal parts a soft melodic piano scale that represents the gentle Barry Allen and a matching synth scale that represents his speed demon alter ego The Flash.  The Fastest Man Alive’s theme is a note progression that rises and rises again and again, the repetitive and fast motion of a run.  The synth and piano musical palate, with additional stings of 50’s sci fi sound effects, permeate the rest of The Flash score.

When scoring the more traditionally heroic Supergirl Neely decided to give her series a broad and traditional Superhero theme in the vein of Williams’ hopeful Superman score.  To reflect the strong and hopeful nature of the Girl of Steel, Neely leaned into a full orchestra and delivered a score that felt more open and cinematic than the other two.

Legends of Tomorrow is a more unique challenge in that, unlike the other three CW DC shows, it focuses on more than just one hero.  To reflect the massive ensemble cast and the way they interact Neely pulled out all the stops and created a thematic piece that employs the style of all the other shows in a uniquely action-oriented heroic package.  A little synth and strings to represent the characters from Arrow, a little orchestral strings and operatic voices for the heroic new characters and some rising piano scales to represent the characters from The Flash, with a dash of hard rock guitar to round everything out.

It’s all fairly standard fair, but it is accomplished with a unique flair that makes each of the four series feel uniquely grounded musically.  During the yearly crossovers though, Neely is given a chance to truly shine by creating a self contained cinematic score that contains all the series individual elements as well as the bold thematic underpinnings of the crossover.  The first major crossover blended the Arrow and Flash themes into a bold action score that fit both characters, the second crossover fit together in a way that set the stage for the premiere of Legends of Tomorrow, and the third crossover (the four night Invasion!) storyline merged all four shows into a truly epic visual and musical experience.

The true opportunity to really stretch his legs musically was afforded to Neely during this most recent season with a special crossover episode that found The Flash and Supergirl trapped inside a musical.  Working with Rachel Bloom of My Crazy Ex Girlfirned, and Benj Paseck and Justin Paul of La La Land fame to write lyrics to two original numbers – Neely wrote the music and reorchestrated other standards and covers to provide 42 minutes of music for an American Song Book, Bugsby Berkely 1940’s Holloywood style musical in which both Kara Danvers and Barry Allen are trapped.

Puling from the highly musical cast of both Supergirl and The Flash, the musical opens properly with Melissa Benoist delivering her solo of the classic ‘Moon River’ which segues into the big opening number that utilizes almost the entire cast, a bold showstopper version of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”

Next up is an incredible rendition of the “Guys and Dolls” classic “More I cannot Wish you” belted out by the Broadway/West End luminaries of Victor Garber, Jesse L. Martin, and John Barrowman.  The second Jesse L. Martin began to sing, big crocodile tears formed on my face, this piece was incredibly moving.

After the legacy voices have delivered an amazing number, it’s time for The Flash and Supergirl to do as the episode title promised and perform their duet.  Written by Rachel Bloom, their number “Superfriend” is a fun piece that plants its tongue firmly in cheek allowing these two talents to shine as both singers and dancers.

In the end of course this all took place on an episode of The Flash, so Barry needs one final number to wrap out the episode – and to do that we go to the Pascek and Paul collaboration “Running Home To You” ballad sung by Barry to Iris.

I would have liked to hear a little more from Jeremy Jordan and Carlos Valdes. Winn and Cisco have some serious pipes and I wished they’d really gotten to use them, but overall this musical episode was quite effective.  There were some unfair comparisons between this episode and the classic “Once More With Feeling” musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, with some reviewers complaining that this episode was “lazy” because Joss Whedon had written a full libretto for his Broadway style musical.  These reviewers, I feel, missed the point that this was meant to be inspired by Bugsby Berkely Hollywood musicals full of standards backing up thin but heartfelt plots like Hollywood Hotel, Comet over Broadway or Girl Crazy.  Both episodes are displaying two different subsets of the genre.

NEXT WEEK:  Who survived the Island?  A look ahead at Arrow Season 6













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