If you caught any of FXX’s epic 12-day Simpsons marathon, then you must have seen at least one great musical moment. Now Springfield is getting the big Hollywood salute it deserves with three performances of The Simpsons Take the Bowl.
Hosted by Hank Azaria (and the countless characters he voices on the show), the event—featuring the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra—highlights some of the sitcom’s best song parodies and musical scoring. Also on tap: Special guests, both in person and in animated form. Here are 6 of the most memorable moments from Friday night’s opening concert:
The Simpsons are fans too! A concert celebrating the music of The Simpsons wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from the family itself. A brand-new, exclusive animation of Homer, Marge, and the kids welcomed the audience, making fun of everything from the Bowl’s stacked parking system to the very long time it takes to get from a car to a seat. Later, in another clip, Homer is eager to set off the fireworks finale—so much that he almost hits the button prematurely. Apparently, the Bowl only has three fireworks options: July 4, Labor Day, and Lakers Championship. The latter’s covered in spiderwebs and dust.
Opening couch montage: Another early highlight of the evening: A montage of the show’s opening credits, set to Danny Elfman’s iconic Simpsons theme. It included clips from the intro Guillermo del Toro created for last season’s Treehouse of Horror episode and a special live action version. Regardless of what was onscreen, hearing the LA Philharmonic play an expanded theme song was noteworthy in and of itself—even if, as Azaria joked, it was “probably the first of 200 times you’ll hear this tune tonight.”
Phil Hartman tribute: In two separate performances, comedians and longtime Simpsons family members Conan O’Brien and Jon Lovitz came onstage to celebrate the late Hartman. Before he moved over to NBC—a place of “trust and mutual respect”—O’Brien was a writer on The Simpsons. He wrote several memorable episodes—none more so than “Marge Vs. the Monorail,” featuring Hartman’s character Lyle Lanley. In full costume, O’Brien performed the song he originally wrote for Hartman—”The Monorail Song”—with the help of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Lovitz joked about his vocal versatility on the show—the theater director Llewellyn Sinclair, Marge’s prom date Artie Ziff, and even Critic Jay Sherman, of course, all sound exactly like Lovitz—before breaking out a surprisingly lovely singing voice. His performance of the music of Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!, originally performed by Hartman’s Troy McClure, was both hilarious and touching.
Happy Birthday, Lisa: Remember season 3’s “Stark Raving Dad,” in which Michael Jackson played a large, white mental patient who thinks he’s Michael Jackson? And who could forget the sweet birthday song Jackson’s character, Leon Kompowsky, and Bart sing as a gift to Lisa? Well, as explained by Yeardley Smith (who plays Lisa), Jackson insisted an impersonator sing his vocal tracks instead. Smith remembered that Jackson was so impressed with the impersonator, singer Kipp Lennon, that “he plotzed.” For the first time ever, Lennon and Nancy Cartwright (who plays Bart) sang the birthday song directly to Yeardley.
Weird Al salutes Homer and Marge: Sting, James Taylor, Mick Jagger, Green Day, The Who are just some of the artists who have sang on The Simpsons….and couldn’t be at the Bowl. Instead (and, let’s be honest, for the better), “Weird Al” Yankovic performed an expanded version of his “Jack and Diane” parody, “Homer and Marge.” Yankovic also played a little salute to The Simpsons theme on his accordion—because when and where else will that ever happen again?
Fire! Tubas! Wait—what’s my cue? Azaria joked/warned at the beginning of the night that there was very little rehearsal done before the show and apologized in advance for any problems—even picking out one man in the front row he said he would blame if necessary. Everything went pretty smoothly until he came onstage to introduce the band Vaud and the Villains. The intro was supposed to feature a clip highlighting the work of longtime Simpsons director David Silverman, who both animated the original Tracey Ullman Show Simpsons shorts and is also a member of the band.
Apparently, the clip was cut from the program at the last minute—which nobody told Azaria. And why should they? “I’m just the host of the show,” he quipped. Azaria then went into full Apu mode, “attacking” the patron in the front until someone backstage pointed out that the teleprompter did in fact say “CLIP CUT.” Azaria went on to introduce the “biggest small band” by having the audience try and guess which of its 20 or so members was actually Silverman. It was easy after Azaria purposefully set his tuba on fire.
Honorable Mention: In Simpsons spirit, instead of an “In Memoriam” segment, Smith and Cartwright took a moment to remember all of the presidents of Fox that had come and gone during the quarter century the show has been on the network.
The Simpsons Take the Bowl continues Saturday and Sunday night in Hollywood, leading up to the series’ 26th season premiere Sunday, September 28. The Simpsons has a lot going on this season, including a visit from The Griffins of Family Guy, and additional crossover episodes with Futurama and an earlier version of themselves.