'The Simpsons' Take British Stages by Storm

By John O'Callaghan

© Reuters, August 16, 2000.

LONDON (Reuters) - There's more to "The Simpsons" than meets the eye -- as the cast of the animated show is proving with sold-out live script-readings in Britain this week.

The "Simpsons Mania" tour has proved to be just that, as it adds flesh and blood to Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and the dozens of other yellow residents of Springfield.

With the Fox television network series still going strong after 10 years, tickets for the three live dates in Britain were snapped up faster than Homer can say "Doh!" as fans finally got to put the face to the voice.

At a news conference Wednesday before the shows in London Thursday and Friday, creator Matt Groening and his actors belted out one-liners and in-character dialogue but also marveled at the appeal of the long-running series.

"We all have a little bit of Bart inside us," said Nancy Cartwright, the womanly voice behind the mischievous boy.

After years of watching the animated antics on the small screen, it's a bit disconcerting to see the persona of Homer the hapless slob emanating from the neat and slim Dan Castellaneta.

Harry Shearer, who often switches characters midstream as the despotic Mr. Burns and his simpering sidekick Smithers, said the stage offers a refreshing change from the confines and anonymity of the studio.

"The best thing is to see and feel the excitement of the audience," he told Reuters.

"We like doing this. It's very satisfying after being in a little room in the basement of Fox for 10 years to come out and feel this from an audience." Shearer, whose long list of acting and writing credits runs from "Saturday Night Live" to "This is Spinal Tap," said the tour may be the start of a more regular road show, with Australia likely to be the next stop.

The stage version, first performed at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in February, took the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by storm Monday.

One critic complained illusions had been shattered and that the script was tough to follow without the pictures, but the cheers and two standing ovations showed what the crowd in Scotland thought of the behind-the-scenes peek.

"The Simpsons" is much more than just a cartoon for kids.

Sure, they'll howl at Bart's bad behavior and "Eat my shorts" attitude or when Barney invariably belches at Moe's Bar, but social satire is what keeps the adults coming back for more.

Religion, popular culture and the American dream -- nothing is too sacred to escape the skewer.

"What we try to do is reward you for paying attention. If you don't pay attention, it's a very funny, brightly colored show with lots of moving images," Groening told reporters.

"But if you pay attention, there are actually references to other things that are going on in our lives and in the culture, in movies, in books. So if you have a few brains, you're not completely insulted -- just partially."

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Last updated on August 17, 2000 by Jouni Paakkinen (