J.K. Simmons, who has family connections in Missoula, has a way of showing up on screen and making everything way more awesome. In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man he plays the crotchety, cigar-smoking newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson who yell-talks his way through lines like, “Who is Spider-man? He’s a criminal, that’s who he is!” You’ve seen him in Hidalgo, The Ladykillers, The Mexican and Burn After Reading. My favorite: the two episodes of “Party Down” where he plays a very colorful rich guy named Leonard Stiltskin who is completely unquoteable lest we offend.
As comical as he is, Simmons is versatile, which is why it makes sense that he’ll fit right in as the special guest for the Missoula Symphony Orchestra’s tribute to veterans this weekend called American Salute. “Lincoln Portrait” is a classical piece written by Aaron Copland during WWII, that uses a brass-heavy orchestra and narration made up of excerpts from some of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous documents, including the Gettysburg Address. It’s a grand and patriotic piece, which will surely be done justice through the hands of MSO Music Director Darko Butorac and the booming vocals of Simmons. The orchestra will also perfrom “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber, which was a key song in the film Platoon, and “Ashokan Farewell,” which you’ll recognize from PBS’ “Civil War.” MSO people tell us that there will also be a surprise reading from Simmons involving the Civil War.
There’s actually no way of knowing what Abe Lincoln sounded like (the upcoming Spielberg film starrring Daniel Day Lewis has one take on it) but I imagine that Simmons’ dynamic rendering, as always, will steal the show.