Travels: London: The Simpsons - Live

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The Run-up

I saw somewhere (Sky 1 Teletext possibly) around May/June that there were to be live shows in London on the 17th & 18th August. I noted the dates in my diary but then largely forgot about them. In late July I visited the Sky Web site and found that several blocks of tickets had already been sold by sole agent TicketMaster. The last batch were to be sold at 10:00 on Monday 7th August.

I accessed the Web site from 10:00 and the tickets actually went on sale 10 minutes late. They were all 15 without any real choice of seat type. So far so good! It seemed to be as painless as the last time I used TicketMaster.

On Thursday evening I got home to find a note from TicketMaster saying the organisers had changed the time from 12:30 to 20:00 and did I still want my ticket. This was no doubt responsible of TM but I only knew of the 20:00 time. I e-mailed them at the designated address the next day.

By the next Tuesday I was getting worried - three days to go and no ticket. I rang TM (though I hate the call centre style of phone handling - "press 5 now to blah blah...") and finally got through to a helpful human who was puzzled that my ticket hadn't been sent off and promised to get it in the post that day. It arrived on Thursday - phew!

The tickets said "doors open 19:30" which to me means the performance starts at 20:00 and one can get to one's seat at 19:30. It wasn't that simple...


The Friday Show

Aug. 19th - The Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue

There was a large crowd ouside the entrance, against crash barriers, and a lesser one by the stage entrance. Harry Enfield arrived with two children in tow and did the celeb thing, entering by a cordoned-off section with two photographers snapping away. As he's now working for Sky, he was probably a guest.

We were let in on time, at 19:30, but then barred from entering the auditorium for no clear reason. Instead the programme seller (7.50) at the door to the lower circle advised people to go to the bar till 20:00. I did carry on up the winding stairs and found a tiny bar, packed with people and very hot - no thanks! The door to the upper circle was unguarded and I peered inside - there was no apparent reason why we weren't being let in, other than the suspicion that they wanted bar business. I went back down to the entrance to the lower circle and simply read the programme while waiting.

As with Wyndham's Theatre and presumably many other London theatres, there are a lot of curious passageways and staircases - all very quaint.

The crowd waiting to go in built up. Harry Enfield went to and fro, making a passing comment about the bar. It got hotter and hotter.

Just after 20:00 we were at last let in. I was at the end of a little row of three seats just by that entrance. We heard that the performance would start at 20:30. An album of Simpsons musical items was playing. The stage was set with a semi-circle of stools and lecterns, with some stand-up cut-outs of major characters.

HE and party were in a box at the lower circle level. HE came out to sign a couple of autographs. Jonathan Ross and party arrived and sat in the front row of that level. After the show JR & HE met at the exit and greeted each other cordially - not too luvvie.

Opening

A couple of minutes late a bloke from Sky TV (David Bergg apparently) came on to welcome us and introduce Matt Groening, who in turn said a few words in greeting then handed over to a set of clips of Groundskeeper Willy (e.g. being greased up by Lunchlady Doris to chase Santa's Little Helper...). I later learned from the uk.media.tv.simpsons newsgroup that this must have been chosen as opener because the show opened at the Edinburgh Festival.

MG came back on and introduced the Executive Producer or "showrunner" Mike Scully. (Presumably showrunner distinguishes him amongst various "Executive Producers".) Between them they chatted about the tour - for instance various writers and families had come over too.

There was another set of clips, mainly "British" ones such as Sherry Bobbins & Lisa's Wedding. It finished with a specially-commissioned piece they'd done for a French washing powder advert. It opens with Marge in the washing powder aisle of a supermarket; the next scene (as I recall) is in the Simpsons kitchen; the 3rd major scene is in the garden, with the family standing naked behind their clothes hanging on a washing line. A gust of wind makes all but Bart scurry off - Bart flaunts instead!

MG mentioned some of the attempted censorship from Fox executives; he said the same things at the NFT. For instance,

MG also said "I think the executives don't get The Simpsons. They get the ratings but I don't think they quite understand the show."

Then MG & MS introduced the cast one at a time, right-to-left from audience point-of-view:

The performance

They performed The Cartridge Family, which has never been shown on British TV as it's all about Homer getting a hand gun. Also it opens with a riot at a soccer match and certain parts could be considered anti-British.

Outside there was a production truck so Sky were probably taping the show. [Frustratingly, that's just what they should have shown on their Simpsons 10th Anniversary Special.] A camera tried to follow who was speaking and its view was displayed on a big screen behind the cast. It was generally better to watch them directly - too much rapid zooming around!

TM handled Marge's lines very well (and Marge's sisters').

The live performance was a completely different experience from watching an episode at home. Whereas one might smile and chuckle there, here the audience laughed a lot (and the cast too). I suppose the group nature of the event was a factor.

The cast did act at key points, rather than just reading - they looked at each other with appropriate expressions.

"D'oh!" will never be the same again for me - now I'll always think of DC saying it. As an aside, DC once explained Homer's famous "d'oh!" as follows: it started out as being based on James Finlayson in the Laurel & Hardy films: "doough", possibly an abbreviated form of "daaamn". MG asked for it to be faster so DC spat it out as "d'oh!".

Some of the highlights:

Epilogue

MG & MS came back on and invited requests for characters and questions.

After about 10-15 minutes of brilliant ad-libs (particularly by HS, HA & DC) of characters who weren't in the performance, there were some questions and then more requests. As others have commented, it was fascinating to see HS ad-lib Burns & Smithers interchanges.

HS even did a bit of Nigel Smalls from his classic spoof rockumentary Spinal Tap.

Sadly some idiot kept asking for Troy McClure, voiced by the late Phil Hartman, resulting in boos. HA replied "sadly he's no longer with us".

MG mentioned that in a next-season episode Comic Book Guy has a heart attack and Bart and Milhouse look after his store.

NC told a lovely story in reply to the question "have you ever used a Simpsons voice in real life?" She wanted to see a Guard (as at Buckingham Palace, for instance - the ones with the large fur hats) and duly found one and asked if she could have her pic taken with him - "yes". While standing alongside him, she asked if he was a Simpsons fan - he was. She then said as Bart: "I'm Bart Simpson. Who the Hell are you?" and quickly walked off. He marched after her and said (as best I remember it) "Miss Cartwright, please will you accompany me to see the lads?" and she duly did.

DC mentioned that he had to teach Michelle Pfeiffer how to do Homer's food drool - "aaaaarrrrrrgh (drool)" for The Last Temptation of Homer - hinting it was a pleasant chore!

MG said that an expanded version of the 3D sequence in Treehouse of Horror VI is on the way for IMAX viewing. On newsgroup uk.media.tv.simpsons Chris Hill said:

[In October it started showing at the London IMAX as Cyberworld 3D - see 25th November 2000.]

MG keeps saying that a Simpsons movie is only likely to happen after the TV show ends. Chicken Run and Toy Story must help the cause.

MG was asked if the Simpsons would be coming to DVD soon and in reply asked if there was a demand ("yes!"). He said it would, with the usual DVD extras (extra scenes, commentaries etc.).


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