Review: Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostbusters with the Chicago Philharmonic!

Ah the eighties. Shoulder pads, big hair, crossover music, and it seemed that every big movie was set in New York. Ghostbusters (1984) had 1980s New York written all over it. The film became a blockbuster that has fans in tan jumpsuits and proton packs with particle accelerators on their backs. It is 38 years later and that was the scene at the Auditorium Theatre this weekend, when Ghostbusters was played with orchestral accompaniment from the Chicago Philharmonic, conducted by Peter Bernstein. That name sounds familiar because his father was esteemed film composer Elmer Bernstein who composed or arranged over 200 film scores from The Ten Commandments to Animal House to Ghostbusters.

I am one of those movie nerds who stays for the credits and sometimes even buys the soundtracks to movies. Ghostbusters is one of those movies. The cast has its share of Chicago talent with Bill Murray as the smarmy-yet hilarious Dr. Venkman and the late Harold Ramis who co-wrote the movie and plays the cerebral Dr. Egon Spengler. Ramis went to Senn High School around the corner from where I live and a room in Senn's theater department is named "The Ramis" in his honor. The brilliant Dan Ackroyd co-wrote the film and plays Dr. Ray Stanz. Ernie Hudson plays Winston Zeddemore, a new hire who gets to busting ghosts right out of the gate. Sigourney Weaver plays Dana Barrett, the haughty cello player brought down to earth and subsumed by a Minion of Gozer and becomes the Gatekeeper. My favorite character is Louis Tully played by the great comic actor Rick Moranis who is also subsumed by a Minion of Gozer and becomes the Key Master.

Bernstein's score lifts the comic moments in the film and takes the releasing of spirits to another level. Listening to a live orchestra play the rumbling bass and timpani is a great experience. The Philharmonic either had a theremin or made another instrument sound like one. The theremin is that spooky sound from science fiction movies like Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959). The theremin gives the audience the Pavlovian creeps and is perfectly woven through Bernstein's score.

Ghostbusters was directed by the late Ivan Reitman who had previously worked with Elmer Bernstein on the soundtrack to another comedy classic, Animal House (1978). There are some similarities in both soundtracks especially when there is mischief afoot. If you get a chance, compare the library scene in Ghostbusters and the theft of Neidermeyer's horse in Animal House. There is other fun stuff in the movie (references or inside jokes, known as "Easter eggs," hidden in plain sight). Dana unpacks a bag of Stay Puft Marshmallows in her kitchen before the eggs explode. Stay Puft also appears on the side of a bus-very Hitchcockian. The radio announcer and the voice of Shaggy on Scooby Doo is Casey Casem. While that may not seem like an Easter egg, the bored blond at Louis' party is Casem's wife, Jean Casem. The appearance of Joe Franklin is a fun New York thing like Irv Kupcinet was to Chicago.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Still from the movie.

It was a fun night and thrilling to have the Chicago Philharmonic playing the soundtrack to Ghostbusters at the gorgeous Auditorium Theatre. There was a blowup of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the lobby that fans posed with, and "real" ghostbusters with proton packs for photo opportunities. One thing—that vehicle that they called the Ghostbusters mobile was not authentic. It was a bedazzled mini truck and not the souped-up 1959 Cadillac ambulance called the "Ecto-mobile." Okay, purist rant over. I hope that they make this an annual tradition to kick off the Halloween season, which has become as big a thing as the Christmas season.

The Chicago Philharmonic is called the People's Orchestra and was founded in 1989 by members of the Lyric Opera orchestra. These are musicians at the top of their game and play a variety of genres with expansive collaborations from the Joffrey Ballet to Lady Gaga and Weird Al Yankovic. Several performances of the Philharmonic are coming up, including another film, The Godfather. To discover more, please visit their website

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.