Simpsons Live on Stage - Ay, Caramba!

By Mark Harden

© Denver Post, February 11, 2000.

ASPEN - "Give us a "Doh!' " someone shouted.

So Dan Castellaneta screwed up his face, began to grumble, and fired away.

"DOH!!" And thus Homer scored a home run with the Wheeler Opera House crowd.

It was "The Simpsons" like you've never seen them before: In the flesh.

Until now we knew the Simpsons family and friends solely as bug-eyed cartoons. But here at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, the actors who provide voices for the hit Fox series staged their first-ever live reading of a "Simpsons" script ( "Homer's Enemy'') on Thursday at the Wheeler. (They'll do another script at 11 tonight.)

How strange it was to see Nancy Cartwright, a blond woman in a plaid scarf and petite reading glasses, giving voice to rascally Bart Simpson.

Stranger still to watch Harry Shearer have a conversation with himself as both Burns and Smithers.

After the show, when the audience yelled requests for sound bites from their favorites characters ( "Give us an "Ay, caramba!"), the cast obliged.

Mike Scully, executive producer of "The Simpsons," noted that assembling the cast posed a challenge, given their myriad time commitments. (In fact, Julie "Marge" Kavner missed the trip).

"It's always tough coordinating everybody's schedules," he said before the show. "But hey, when it's a free trip to Aspen, we can all be very flexible." Many longtime "Simpsons" fans think the 10-year-old series is a funny now as it ever was. The main reason for that, says Scully, is pride among the cast as well as the writers and producers.

"I know very well the feeling of working my ass off on a show that's not funny," he says, "so when you land on something as unique as "The Simpsons,' you really appreciate it. And the show has such a reputation for high quality, you don't want to be part of the crew that sank the ship. When I took the show over (two years ago), my main goal was to just not wreck it." Castellaneta on his own provided an early festival highlight late Wednesday with his sidesplitting one-man show "'Where Did Vincent Van Gogh?" at the St. Regis Hotel.

He opened with a dead-on imitation of Kirk Douglas portraying Van Gogh, then slipped into a medley of outrageous characters, including a flamboyant playwright pitching a musical about cat and dog fanciers, a tough-talking New Yorker who morphs into Billie Holliday in drag, and a cynical puppet berating his mute puppeteer.

The festival also paid tribute Thursday to filmmaker Barry Levinson. Host Craig T. Nelson (a longtime friend) praised Levinson's films for offering "a view of American life more insightful and emotionally authentic than most documentaries."

Levinson, 57, received the American Film Institute's Filmmaker Award, presented annually at the festival.

Levinson told the crowd that "my biggest ambition as a child was not to work in my father's appliance store."

In 1982 Levinson made his directoral debut with "Diner," the first of a series of films to depict working-class life in the 1950s Baltimore of Levinson's youth. Like most Levinson films, "Diner" - nominated for the best-picture Oscar - combined humor and drama in portraying ordinary people.

Among his best comic films: 1997's "Wag the Dog," a wicked dissection of presidential spin control that seemed to predict real events in the Clinton White House, and 1987's "Good Morning, Vietnam," which made better use of Robin Williams' manic comedy talents than any other film to date.

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Last updated on May 12, 2001 by Jouni Paakkinen (