Ever wonder what it’s like to stand on the stage of the iconic Hollywood Bowl?
Bob Bergen and Bruce Broughton can tell you.
“It was an emotional high,” says Bergen, a prominent voice actor who’s the voice of Porky Pig in Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes and other animation and a co-governor of the Academy’s Performers peer group.
He appeared at the Bowl for two performances of the 25th anniversary celebration of “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony,” a program which pairs cartoons of Bugs and his Looney Toons friends with live accompaniment by symphony orchestras, in this case the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Bergen joined program conductor and co-creator George Daugherty for a tribute to the animated characters’ creator, Mel Blanc.
Broughton, a 10-time Emmy-winning composer, took a bow after the world premiere of his “Fanfare for Horns,” a 10-minute piece for 16 horns, co-commissioned by the LA Phil and the International Horn Society for a concert program coinciding with the Society’s annual International Symposium, held this year in Los Angeles.
“It’s the Hollywood Bowl,” says Broughton, an Emmy nominee this year with John Debney for the theme for HISTORY’s miniseries Texas Rising. “You’ve got to keep a warm fuzzy [feeling].”
Bergen had wanted to voice Porky Pig since he was five. His mother’s response when he told her of this goal? “You can’t be Porky Pig. You’re Jewish.”
Undeterred, Bergen got his wish beginning in 1990 with the Tiny Toon Adventures series, and in 2011 and 2013 was Emmy-nominated for outstanding voice-over performance for the Cartoon Network’s The Looney Tunes Show.
The Hollywood Bowl performance came about after Daugherty contacted Bergen earlier in the year. “He was doing Lincoln Center, and he had the idea for me to do a pre-show announcement,” Bergen relates. “The audience went nuts, and the Warner Bros. executives loved it. George asked if I could do something for the Bowl.”
Bergen was first heard off stage, when Daugherty was listing Looney Tunes characters to the audience, with the admonition, “Haven’t you forgotten someone?” Once on stage, he joined Daugherty for a discussion about Blanc, and told a story of how, once the Bergen family had moved to Los Angeles when Bob was 14, he successfully tracked down his idol Blanc and met him at a studio.
He then led the audience in a lesson on mastering Porky’s trademark stutter. “The audience members were great students!” he says. “They did a great job.”
Bergen was on stage for somewhere between five and seven minutes each night. “I was talking a mile a minute, trying to get in as much as I could! It was structured, but not scripted. I worked off the audience. Depending on what they gave me, I gave back.”
Bergen had never been backstage at the Bowl before this gig. “I didn’t know if I were going to have a dressing room,” he says. “I had a dressing room! I had a shower!”
The dress rehearsal on the morning of the first performance was also memorable. “It was scarier, because I could see the Bowl!” Bergen says. (The outdoor amphitheater seats almost 18,000 people.) “I walked out on that stage and I thought, ‘Oh, my God! The Beatles were here!’”
Broughton had participated in Bowl concerts previously; he had conducted during a Television Academy Television Night concert and had several compositions performed by Hollywood Bowl Orchestra founding conductor John Mauceri and that ensemble.
The Fanfare was Broughton’s first commission from the LA Phil; he’s composed commissions for other ensembles. It came about because “the Horn Society went to the LA Phil, they talked it over and my name came up,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of brass, most notably, Silverado [the 1985 Western film for which he was Oscar-nominated]. I used to play it – badly. My family all plays brass.”
Broughton had a few months to compose the Fanfare. “The trick in it for me was to have something that’s playable,” he says. “It’s starting off the concert, so it had to have this attention: ‘Hey, here I am!’”
”It’s a new piece, so you don’t want to frighten anyone,” he adds. “It’s at the [informal] Bowl, so you’re not going to sit there and analyze it.” With 16 different horn lines and a longer-than-usual running time for a fanfare, he kept listener interest, he says, “by finding ways to make the sound change – with mutes, different types of articulations, bouncing the sound around. You can get used to the sound of a horn pretty fast, so you have to have a lot of variety.”
Like Bergen, for Broughton the dress rehearsal also stood out, albeit for a different reason. “It was actually more exciting at the rehearsal during the day,” Broughton says. “I went out [in the house] about halfway up and listened. I could really hear it. I could hear the balance, how things worked.” At the concert, he watched and listened from an offstage monitor, then came on for his bow.
Broughton, who’d studied piano, had fantasized as a kid about performing at the Bowl. “I never thought I would show up having my music played there,” he says. “Given that my career has been mostly in film and television music, the Bowl is an important part. It’s where everyone meets and reminds ourselves, ‘This is where we are [Los Angeles]. This is where we produce music people love.’ That’s a big deal.”
And, says Bergen, “My dream was to be the voice of Porky Pig in cartoons. To go out on that stage, representing the current generation of Looney Tunes voices in animation, was surreal.”