Los Angeles Theater Review: THE SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL (Hollywood Bowl)

Post image for Los Angeles Theater Review: THE SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL (Hollywood Bowl)

by Tony Frankel on September 17, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


The intelligent minds behind The Simpsons already had over 51,000 spectators (over three nights) in the palms of their collective hands before they sat down to write The Simpsons Take the Bowl, a hodgepodge of animated clips, anecdotes, guest star appearances, musical numbers, and fireworks—all co-hosted by three voiceover artists: Hank Azaria (“Moe,” “Chief Wiggum,” “Comic Book Guy,” et al), Nancy Cartwright (“Bart,” “Ralph,” et al), and Yeardley Smith (“Lisa”…no et al).


Unwisely, the disappointing event last Sunday had the air of a self-congratulatory awards show with inferior writing read from Teleprompters by some of the co-hosts and celebrity artists. Even show creator Matt Groening read Fox TV Censor Notes from 5×8 cards, which only goes to show that brilliant minds from TV do not necessarily translate to brilliance on the stage. I didn’t know what to expect, but I assumed this world premiere would be rife with the lampooning elements which make The Simpsons—celebrating 25 years and 552 episodes—the longest-running breath of fresh air on TV. But only the cartoon aspects were inspired; the live elements were mostly lame. This may have to do with the fact that among the credits—3 Executive Producers, 5 Producers, 2 Associate Producers, and 23 writers—no one was listed as Director.


As evidence, it was mostly the animated portions which appeared on the Bowl’s massive screens that had the audience roaring. The viewers went wild during a famous segment, written by Steve Tompkins, in which Springfield’s Ajax Steel Mill turns into a gay nightclub called “The Anvil,” and the beefy gay workers disco to C+C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now.”


A reel of stupendous guest-directed “Couch Gags”—the clever opening sequences for each Simpsons episode—included mind-bending treats from Triplets of Belleville director Sylvain Chomet (animated in the U.K. by Neil Boyle and Peter Dodd, and art directed by Kirk Hendry); British graffiti artist and political activist Banksy; and Mexican fantasy film director Guillermo Del Torro.

Conductor Thomas Wilkins in SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL.

A clip created especially for this event, “Simpsons Arriving at the Bowl,” was hilarious because it contained the trademark satirical parody of American culture as Homer, Marge, and the kids navigated through stacked parking and a long, arduous climb to the cheap seats. It was also lampoon heaven in this short when town drunk Barney Gumble clunked down the Bowl’s stairs landing on the stage with a loud Hans Zimmer with conductor Thomas Wilkins in SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL.belch and “Where are the Beatles?” (Curiously, the names of Dan Castellaneta—the voice of “Homer” and “Barney”—and Julie Kavner—the voice of “Marge”—were not mentioned once during the 90-minute-plus-intermission event.)

Composer Hans Zimmer (who looked silly in a headpiece that I must have missed seeing on The Simpsons) joined conductor Thomas Wilkins (who began in an oversized Homer Head) and the awesome Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (some of whom wore Marge wigs) to accompany a previously animated short: The “Academy-Award nominated” (we were told three times) “The Longest Daycare.” The whimsical and clever adventure of baby Maggie trying to save a butterfly from a murderous toddler (“Baby Gerald”) was reminiscent of Merrie Melodies but with added poignancy. Even though we didn’t get the 3-D version which was shown prior to screenings of Ice Age: Continental Drift in 2012, the audience rightfully went nuts.

Hank Azaria in SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL.As for the live-action portions, it’s amazing how many of the musical numbers never took off. The issue is that the songs themselves are not at the standard of those in Family Guy (one of the many cardboard cutouts adorning the Bowl was Peter Griffin saying, “What am I Doing Here?”). Sure, it was great to see the ridiculously talented Azaria reenacting his famous characters—but the familiarity factor wore off quick with frivolous jokes and a silly number showing Azaria as “Apu” (proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mart) dancing with human-sized hot dogs. Later, those same wieners incongruously joined Beverly D’Angelo, who reprised her role of aspiring country western singer Lurleen Lumpkin in the forgettable “Bagged Me a Homer.” Kipp Lennon, who was Michael Jackson’s singing voice in the episode “Stark Raving Dad,” may be a great musician (and brother to The Lennon Sisters), but he seemed wooden and out-of-place singing “Lisa, It’s Your Birthday.”

Beverly D'Angelo and weiners in SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL.

The Simpsons director and early animator David Silverman played a flaming tuba with the explosively fun 1930s New Orleans-themed Vaud and the Villains, but “You Put the Spring in Springfield,” and the dancing girls’ choreography which accompanied the flat song, were too simplistic to set the Bowl on fire.

Vaud and the Villains in SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL.

Weird Al Yankovic appearing in SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL.The mesmeric “Weird Al” Yankovic was more apropos singing about The Simpsons to the tune of Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane” (accompanying himself on accordion), and the indefatigable Conan O’Brien was joined by 140 members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of L.A. with his Music Man parody, “The Monorail Song,” from the episode he wrote, “Marge vs. the Monorail.” A helluva lot of fun, and one of the only numbers which actually was big enough to fill the Bowl’s massive stage, but it only lasted one and a half minutes (some of the songs were less than 30 seconds). Both O’Brien and the somewhat entertaining and falsely self-effacing Jon Lovitz lovingly acknowledged Phil Hartman’s contributions to The Simpsons (Hartman originally sang both “Monorail” and the Planet of the Apes parody that Lovitz nailed).

Conan O'Brien with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles in SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL.

The irony was high for an “In Memoriam” section: Smith and Cartwright introduced an honor roll of the departed: Instead of names such as Hartman and Marcia Wallace, who voiced cynical teacher Edna Krabappel, Mozart’s Requiem accompanied the astoundingly long list of Fox presidents who made brief appearances in the last 25 years.

Nancy Cartwright, Kipp Lennon, and Yeardley Smith in SIMPSONS TAKE THE BOWL.

But then our eyes went back to the screen, watching “Minimum Wage Nanny” from the show’s parody of Mary Poppins. It’s a kick putting human faces to their animated counterparts, but without cameras beaming their faces to us, Smith and Cartwright instantly disappeared from memory. And whose bright idea was it to set off fireworks while clips played on the screens? Most of the people around me, including my fireworks-fanatic friend, disregarded the pleasurable pyrotechnics for those giant TV sets. Between that and Fox encouraging guests “to tweet via their personal accounts during the show,” the unintentional irony of this celebration-more-than-show was as thick as the intentional irony which has kept The Simpsons on the air for a quarter-century.


photos by Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging

The Simpsons Take the Bowl
The Hollywood Bowl
played September 12 – 14, 2014
for future events, visit The Hollywood Bowl

Comments on this entry are closed.