There's no point of reviewing Sunday (September 14) night's The Simpsons Take The Bowl show from The Hollywood Bowl, at least not in a traditional way.
Sunday's presentation was the third and final night for The Simpsons Take The Bowl and, alas, if you didn't catch one of the shows… That's it. Sorry.
Timed to loosely synchronize with the classic comedy's 25th anniversary, the show's recent syndicated move to FXX and Sunday, September 28 premiere for the new season, The Simpsons Take The Bowl was a terrific two hours of live music, singing and dancing, culminating in fireworks. The event featured an assortment of new animation tailored around the venue, but also included classic “Simpsons” bits including Homer's plummet down the Springfield Gorge, Homer's gambol through The Land of Chocolate and the transition from the Ajax Steel Mill into The Anvil.
I'm not sure that all of my favorite “Simpsons” musical moments were acknowledged. I guess Terry Cashman had other things to do and couldn't make a “Talking Softball” appearance. I know Harry Shearer is starring in a play in London and I assume Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner had similar reasons for being absent. Kelsey Grammer's a busy guy, but it should would have been nice to hear some Sideshow Bob crooning live. But when you're distilling 552 episodes, a movie, an Oscar nominated short and a hit album into a two-hour concert, choices will always be made.
So in lieu of an actual review, let me quickly recount a few highlights:
*** While Yeardley Smith and Nancy Cartwright were credited as co-hosts, the night's real MC was Hank Azaria, who reminded us that he was also making his return to Showtime's “Ray Donovan” that night. Azaria bounced gleefully between voices including Apu, Moe, Comic Book Guy, Duff-Man and Professor Frink, who he called a personal favorite. I'd be disappointed that Dr. Nick didn't come out for a few minutes, but Azaria is not a monkey, even if he was swapping voices and outfits for our amusement. The Wiggum-ized chorus of “Let It Go” was a singing highlight, while “Who Needs The Kwik-E Mart” found Azaria a bit upstaged by dancing hot dogs and offered a reminder of the difficulties of singing a rangy song while also doing an Indian accent. If Azaria couldn't quite pull off the closing falsetto, he acted his way through it with aplomb.
*** The night's best moment? The Gay Men's Chorus of LA, dressed as Stonecutters, leading a chorus of “Spider-Pig,” followed by “Stonecutter's Song” and “See My Vest,” which was plenty fun even in Shearer's absence.
*** Smith and Cartwright were a lot more visible in the second half of the program, with “Minimum Wage Nanny” providing a very sweet highlight for both actress. [I'd also never watched Cartwright switch between Bart, Nelson and Ralph, which was fun.] Cartwright closed the show with a spirited “Do the Bartman,” had the Bowl clapping, even if the “Bart”-ness of her vocals ebbed and flowed as she led the entire cast and crew onto stage for dancing and mirth.
*** Speaking of sweet moments, Kipp Lennon came out to sing vocals on “Happy Birthday Lisa,” which he sang in the Michael Jackson-centric “Stark Raving Dad.” The song is one of the sweeter moments in “Simpsons” history and having Lennon in attendance and acknowledging his contribution was nice.
*** Weird Al Yankovic, who was a dud at the Emmys last week, was spectacular in closing the first half of the program with an extended version of “Homer & Marge,” which also included an accordion solo. Yankovic's rubber-limbed dancing was also notable.
*** I loved the recognition for myriad “Simpsons” stealth MVPs, big and small. The least stealthy “Simpsons” MVP has to be Matt Groening, who opened the show and introduced Azaria, as well as mentioning many of the show's writers. Alf Clausen received a spotlight in the crowd and a musical medley. Director David Silverman got to play a flaming tuba with his band Vaud and the Villains on a lively arrangement of “Spring In Springfield.”
*** Dubbed “The only 'Simpsons' writer anyone cares about,” Conan O'Brien made a big splash with “Monorail” song, coming out in full Lyle Lanley garb. O'Brien was so enthusiastic about taking the spotlight — complete with obligatory NBC jokes — that you could get past exactly how central Phil Hartman is to the majesty of that song. Similarly, Jon Lovitz's heart was in the right place on “Chimpan A to Chimpan Z,” but he seemed aware that he couldn't replace Hartman and made no effort to Troy McClure-ize his voice. Ultimately, sufficient obeisance was paid to the irreplaceability of the late Hartman, which I appreciated.
*** My biggest laugh of the night may have come from special guest Tony Hawk skateboarding across the stage near the end of the show yelling, “I'm superfluous!”
*** My second biggest laugh of the night came from the necrology of FOX Presidents who departed or were fired during the run of “The Simpsons.” It seems that Dana Walden & Gary Newman will remain at their current jobs until 2021, when they'll be replaced by… Ralph Wiggum. Sounds about right.
*** Kudos to Courtney Galiano, one of my five favorite “So You Think You Can Dance” veterans. Galiano choreographed all of the dancing and had a memorable salsa solo in “Señor Burns.”
I could go on, but that seems like enough little snapshots from a tremendously fun night.