September 15, 2014
The Simpsons Take The Bowl
Cast, writers and composers give rousing 25th anniversary tribute to TV's zany animated series by Jon Burlingame
HOLLYWOOD—More than 30,000 fans watched, laughed and sang along as The Simpsons celebrated a quarter-century on television with a two-hour music-and-comedy bash Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl.
Hank Azaria – the voice of Apu, Moe and Chief Wiggum on the animated Fox series – served as host for the two-hour show, sometimes as himself and sometimes in character. Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa, and Nancy Cartwright, who does Bart, co-hosted. (Cartwright invoked the classic line "I'm Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?")
Standees of the characters were placed throughout the Bowl grounds, providing great photo opps for the fans, while inner tube-size doughnuts were strung throughout the Bowl courtyard. Many Bowl employees were wearing purple Sideshow Bob wigs, and numerous women members of the orchestra donned blue Marge Simpson hairpieces.
Even Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conductor Thomas Wilkins emerged from the wings wearing a Homer Simpson head. Simpsons creator Matt Groening, identified by Azaria as "the world's richest underground cartoonist," introduced the show.
Most of the evening's music was drawn from the episode scores composed by Alf Clausen, a two-time Emmy winner for his music for the series, although Danny Elfman's theme was frequently referenced and Hans Zimmer's music for the 2007 Simpsons Movie and the Oscar-nominated 2012 short The Longest Daycare was also heard. Jim Dooley was responsible for most of the arrangements. Clausen was introduced in the audience; Zimmer was onstage for two of the numbers.
New animation opened the show, poking fun at the Bowl's "stacked parking" policy and the endless climb to the cheap seats at the top of the Bowl. In one of the cleverest sight gags, the Hollywood sign collapsed, replaced by one that simply said "DOH," a favorite Homer Simpson exclamation.
Azaria, as Apu, sang "Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?" accompanied by dancing hot dogs, and introduced a series of "couch gags" (the opening title sequence) as supposedly imagined by directors Guillermo del Toro and Sylvain Chomet, artist Banksy and a real-people version from Britain's Sky One TV.
Beverly D'Angelo, in an outrageously busty costume, reprised her Lurleen Lumpkin role, singing "Your Wife Don't Understand You" and "Bagged Me a Homer," while Weird Al Yankovic sang "Homer and Marge" and even played the Simpsons theme on his accordion. Kipp Lennon was revealed as the performer who substituted for Michael Jackson's singing voice on a third-season episode and performed "Happy Birthday Lisa" from that show.
During the second half, Azaria introduced the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus with a clip from the eighth-season episode "Homer's Phobia" in which Homer takes Bart to a steel mill and discovers that all the workers are gay. Zimmer, who played keyboards in a Longest Daycare excerpt during the first half, conducted the choir during a reprise of a favorite moment from The Simpsons Movie, "Spider Pig," a takeoff on the familiar Spider-Man TV theme. The choir also sang Clausen's classic Stonecutters' Song "We Do" and "See My Vest," a sixth-season takeoff on the Disney favorite "Be Our Guest."
Conan O'Brien proved a highlight. Introduced as "the only Simpsons writer that anyone cares about," he recalled his pre-talk-show days as a writer on the series and then brought the house down with a spirited, singing-and-dancing performance of the fourth-season Music Man satire "The Monorail Song."
Cheerleaders promoting Duff Beer cannon-fired T-shirts into the crowd during the performance of the Duff theme "Oh Yeah." Veteran Simpsons music editor Chris Ledesma conducted the orchestra in a medley of classic Clausen cues from the series, including the Emmy-nominated "Senor Burns" number originally written for Latin bandleader Tito Puente.
Frequent Simpsons voice artist Jon Lovitz paid tribute to his late friend Phil Hartman by singing Hartman's part in the series' seventh-season Planet of the Apes musical, "Chimpan A to Chimpan Z." On Friday night, Azaria was temporarily stumped when he belatedly realized that a clip originally scheduled to be played had been cut from the show ("Why tell me? I'm just the host," he complained to audience laughter).
Regular Simpsons director David Silverman joined the crowd as the flaming-tuba-playing musician in the band Vaud & the Villians, performing "We Put the Spring in Springfield." New animation had Maggie pushing the button to launch the fireworks, which were set to Zimmer music from The Simpsons Movie and Elfman's original TV theme. For an encore, Cartwright led the audience in the Michael Jackson-co-written 1990 pop-rap hit "Do the Bartman."
Cast members Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner and Harry Shearer didn't participate, which was unfortunate because it meant the audience missed out on antics that would probably have involved Mr. Burns and Krusty the Clown. But so much of the show was energetic and funny that few fans may have missed them.
©2014 Jon Burlingame