By Bill Keveney
Music has charms to soothe the savage Bart. And the angry Homer. And millions of Simpsons fans.
Merry melodies, including “We Put the Spring in Springfield,” “See My Vest” and “We Do” “The Stonecutters Song,” have become a signature of Fox’s dynastic animated hit, and will be featured Thursday in a four-hour FXX marathon (7 p.m.) and a three-night performance of “The Simpsons Take the Bowl!” at Los Angeles’ iconic Hollywood Bowl that begins Friday.
Music has been crucial to “The Simpsons” from the start of its 25-year run, creator Matt Groening says. “The three things that we [wanted] at the very beginning of the show were great writing, great voices and great music.”
The show’s taste has been eclectic, from rock (Mick Jagger and Elvis Costello instructing Homer at rock camp) to country (Colonel Homer managing Lurleen Lumpkin), from operatic (Krusty and Sideshow Bob performing Pagliacci) to boy band (‘N Sync visiting Bart’s band).
As for favorite genres, “We seem to be suckers for the Broadway show,” says executive producer Al Jean. “A lot of our stuff is doing ‘Evita’ or ‘Mary Poppins’.”
“My favorite episodes are the musicals. I think the writing is superb, very tongue-in-cheek. It’s satire at its best,” says Nancy Cartwright [Bart], who will appear in the Bowl shows along with Groening and co-stars Yeardley Smith (Lisa) and Hank Azaria (Apu and Chief Wiggum, among others).
Former Simpsons writer Conan O’Brien will perform “Monorail Song,” and guest stars Jon Lovitz (Llewellyn Sinclair, director of “Oh, Streetcar!”), Beverly D’Angelo (Lurleen) and “Weird Al” Yankovic (who played himself in two episodes) also are scheduled to appear at the Bowl shows, which will feature Simpsons clips accompanied by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. (Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer and many other characters, recorded material for some new animation.)
The show’s music, most of it composed by Alf Clausen, has inspired the animation. “The singing of the characters gives us a way to express visually” beyond their usual movements, says director David Silverman, who will perform at the Bowl shows with Vaud and the Villains. “It’s so much fun that we can stage this and stage that, cut here and cut there, do a dance routine.”
Over the years, guest appearances by musical superstars —” from Tony Bennett to Elton John to three of The Beatles — have left the producers star-struck.
“We met George Harrison. We were recording it from the outside and we went in the room to shake his hand. And he goes, ‘You just want to get in the room and shake my hand,’ “ Jean says.
At times, they literally couldn’t believe who was interested in appearing on the show.
“I was sitting in the office late at night and I got a call from a very high-pitched voice, ‘Michael Jackson,’ and I thought, ‘Prank phone call.’ ‘No, it really is,’ “ Groening remembers Jackson responding. “And I just thought, ‘He must get that from everybody.’ “ (Jackson spoke in Season 3’s “Stark Raving Dad” and wrote “Happy Birthday, Lisa,” though Kipp Lennon sang the tune.)
Groening’s favorites include Apu’s “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?,” which Azaria will sing at the Bowl, and musical take-offs of “The Planet of the Apes” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “in part because the Tennessee Williams estate wouldn’t give us the rights to the play,” he says.
The appearance at the Bowl, which often presents classical music performances, is another milestone for the groundbreaking, Emmy-winning comedy, which drew strong ratings for an FXX marathon, which ended on Labor Day, that included all 552 episodes.
“We just wonder how many people might have gotten season tickets and are going to be there going, ‘What the heck is this? We wanted ‘The 1812 Overture,’” Groening says.
Gannett News Service