by Linda A. Rapka
Springfield descended upon the Hollywood Bowl last month during an unprecedented three-day concert extravaganza celebrating the music of “The Simpsons.”
Preceding the show’s milestone 26th season, “The Simpsons Take the Bowl” premiered Friday, Sept. 12, and continued through the warm summer weekend. Guests filtering into the venue were greeted by “Simpsons” visuals throughout: ribbons of giant pink donuts cascading overhead; a jumbo blowup of Blinky, Springfield’s infamous three-eyed nuclear fish; the Duff Beer blimp (in balloon form) hovering over the amphitheater; and of course, “Simpsons” characters in full costume, greeting and taking pictures with excited guests of all ages.
Co-hosted by iconic “Simpsons” voices Hank Azaria, Nancy Cartwright and Yeardley Smith, the show saw the Bowl at near capacity during the entire run. Featuring music from both the television series and “The Simpsons Movie,” the performances were replete with costumed choreography and delightful set design.
“Music from the television show was expanded from the smaller recording studio orchestra size to a total of 87 musicians performing in the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra,” said personnel manager Brian Miller. “The orchestra played with click track for animated clips projected on the Bowl’s big screen from the television series, as well as new animation done especially for this concert.”
Show creator Matt Groening delivered opening remarks before opening the stage to the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, whose more adventurous women musicians sported tall blue Marge Simpson wigs. Leading the orchestra in “The Star-Spangled Banner” was none other than Homer Simpson — who turned out to be a costumed principal conductor Thomas Wilkins.
Appearing on stage throughout the evening were a slew of special guests associated with the series during its long and epic run (which shows no signs of slowing anytime soon). “Weird Al” Yankovic performed a quirky rendition of “The Simpsons” theme song on accordion. Actress/singer Beverly D’Angelo, recalling her stint as Homer Simpson’s almost-love interest, country songstress Lurleen Lumpkin, wore a screaming glittery pink cowgirl outfit singing “Bagged Me a Homer.”
Vocalist Kipp Lennon, who impersonated Michael Jackson on the original sweet and catchy “Happy Birthday Lisa” in the same “Simpsons” episode the actual King of Pop guest-voiced, performed a lovely live version of the now-classic birthday song. Additional guests included monotone comedian Jon Lovitz and skateboard Hall of Famer Tony Hawk.
Singing as Apu, Azaria performed a singalong-inspiring version of “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart” — which, naturally, featured a chorus line of dancing hot dogs. In an unforgettable version of “We Do (The Stonecutters’ Song),” a song about an ancient secret society parodying Freemasons, composer Hans Zimmer led the orchestra in full Stonecutters regalia — complete with robe and ridiculous hat — backed by the spirited Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Decked out in a veritable rainbow of sparkly vest, the chorus also lent its talents to “Spider-Pig,” featured in the 2007 feature film, and “See My Vest” from a classic Mr. Burns episode.
Adding to the evening’s many visuals were clips both old and new of “Simpsons” animations projected on the jumbo screens, as well as light displays depicting different scenes upon the clamshell stage. The show even included a few surprises, like Azaria singing “Let It Go” excerpts from Disney’s “Frozen” in the nasally high-pitched voice of Chief Wiggum.
Late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien, a former writer for the “The Simpsons” who penned several classic episodes including “Marge vs. the Monorail” in parody of “The Music Man,” bounced onto the stage decked out in a red and white striped suit that elongated his already lanky 6’4” frame. Taking lead vocals on “The Monorail Song,” O’Brien perfectly nailed the tongue-twisting, lightning-fast spoken intro before jumping into song.
In a special moment during the show, Chris Ledesma led the orchestra in a tribute medley to “Simpsons” composer Alf Clausen, who was in the audience. Another highlight was a screening of “The Longest Daycare,” the Oscar-nominated 3D short which follows baby Maggie Simpson as she fights her way through a menacing experience at daycare. Largely free of dialogue, the four-and-a-half minute film accentuated the musical score by Hans Zimmer and James Dooley, with Zimmer performing on piano.
The 1930s New Orleans cabaret-style stage musical act Vaud and the Villains, in which longtime “Simpsons” director David Silverman plays tuba, delivered a fiery performance — literally. Silverman’s tuba was set ablaze while the band played “We Put the Spring in Springfield.”
The Sunday finale marked the end of the 24th season of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, whose highlights included artists Kristin Chenoweth, Gloria Estefan, and the GoGo’s, music from the films of Alfred Hitchcock with picture (David Newman conducting), the Black Movie Experience with Marcus Miller (Vince Mendoza conducting), and a salute to the animated films of DreamWorks, again featuring the orchestra performing film music.
The 2015 Hollywood Bowl Season begins next June, continuing through September.
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra – Fireworks Finale: ‘The Simpsons’ 25th Anniversary
Sept. 12-14, 2014 – Hollywood Bowl
Katia Popov, concertmaster
Grace Oh, principal
Yu-Tong Sharp, associate principal
Robin Olson, principal
Cheryl Normal-Brick, associate principal
Erik Rynearson, principal
Carrie Holzman-Little, associate principal
Stefan Landon Smith
Jessica van Velzen
Dennis Karmazyn, principal
Armen Ksajikian, associate principal
Tim Barr, principal
Denise Briese, associate principal
Trey Henry (+ electric)
Dick Mitchell (alto)
John Yoakum (alto)
Bob Sheppard (tenor)
Greg Huckins (baritone)
Lawrence Kaplan, principal
Steve Kujala (piccolo)
Lelei Resnick, principal
Cathy del Russo (English horn)
Gary Bovyer, principal
Ralph Williams (bass)
Rose Corrigan, principal
Allen Savedoff (contra)
John Reynolds, principal
Joseph Meyer, 3rd horn associate
Wayne Bergeron, co-principal
Jon Lewis, co-principal
Alex Iles, principal
Craig Gosnell (bass)
Doug Tornquist, principal
Wade Culbreath, principal
Brian Miller, principal
Ken McGrath, principal
Marcia Dickstein, principal
Alan Steinberger, principal
Paul Viapiano, principal
Marty Fenton Frear