Interview: Hear From Matt Selman & Elisabeth Kiernan Averick About THE SIMPSONS' Broadway-Musical-Worthy Season Premiere!

The Simpsons' landmark 33rd season will premiere Sunday, September 26th on Fox.

By: Aug. 27, 2021
Interview: Hear From Matt Selman & Elisabeth Kiernan Averick About THE SIMPSONS' Broadway-Musical-Worthy Season Premiere!

The Simpsons' landmark 33rd season will premiere Sunday, September 26th on Fox - with a Broadway musical flare.

Overcome with nostalgia, Marge decides to stage a revival of her high school musical, "Y2K: The Millennium Bug." Dreaming of a show where she, the stage manager and everyone's best pal, will be the focal point of the production, Marge's life becomes a musical with her as the lead (and her singing is voiced by Kristen Bell).

But Marge isn't prepared when the actual star of the show, Sasha Reed (Sara Chase), returns and steals the spotlight - and Marge discovers her beloved high school memories are not at all how she remembers.

Ahead of the very theatrical premiere, BroadwayWorld had the pleasure of speaking to executive producer Matt Selman and the episode's writer, Elisabeth Kiernan Averick. They gave us the exclusive inside scoop about what we can expect from The Simpsons' most ambitious musical theatre project of all time.

Selman has been with The Simpsons since 1997. He has won 6 primetime Emmy Awards for his work on the show, which includes writing fan-favorite episodes "Trilogy of Error," "Behind the Laughter," "Natural Born Kissers," and "That '90s Show."

Averick came to The Simpsons from the beloved musical comedy series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In fact, she co-wrote the songs from this episode with Crazy-Ex collaborator Jack Dolgen.

Read our full interview below to find out what to expect from The Simpsons premiere!

The Simpsons has always done musical moments and episodes, but this one's a little bit different. Can you tell me about what makes this season premiere special compared to other Simpsons musical episodes?

MS: Music has always been part of the show and musical numbers have always been there to make stories more fun and more silly and more entertaining along the way. We've done musical style episodes before but they were usually parodying the story of a pre-existing thing, like Mary Poppins or My Fair Lady. What's really distinct about this, Elisabeth's idea, was that it was to tell a new story where the Broadway numbers pushed the story and defined the episode, told in a way that was unique and in the style of a Broadway show, where the music is doing most of the storytelling. All the non-musical scenes we tried to make short and funny because we wanted to make room for more music.

EKA: I will say it's even shaped more like a Broadway show. The first song is the 'want' song, and that's Marge setting up what she wants from the episode. Then we have the act two curtain raiser, which is the group number, but it's also from the show they're putting on. Then we have the reprise, where it's Marge's lowest moment, a reprise of her 'want' song. We really got in true musical elements as opposed to just "there are songs in this episode." We shaped it like a musical and it was so much fun.

One of my favorite Simpsons is the Evita parody "The President Wore Pearls." That is sort of shaped like a musical in the same way, but this episode is all original music and an all original idea.

MS: Right, Elisabeth came up with a story--what's fun is it's the classic show about a show: it's a Broadway show about the restaging of a different, also non-existent Broadway show. So it uses theatre people and people who have experience in theatre and people who have memories of special times of doing theatre when they were young and now they are old. It uses those universal themes in a--I hate the word 'meta' so I'm not going to use it. But it's a musical about musicals, about the egos and the problems behind the scenes and those above the line and below the line distinctions.

Can you give me a little peek into the show within the show?

EKA: They are reprising a show they did senior year called "Y2K: The Millenium Bug." It takes place on New Year's Eve 1999, so it's also kind of our homage to Rent. We get to see small glimpses of that throughout, and we get to hear the title track, which would have been like a "Seasons of Love,' a couple of times, which is fun. It's about the drama of what we thought Y2K would be, and obviously, it's funny to talk to the rest of the room because there are some people that are older than me. I was in high school, but they were in their twenties and had bank accounts and money and "is it going to be there?" I was just like, "is AIM gonna work?" (laughing) It was different concerns, like "what if someone has taken my Lizard677 AOL account, what's going to happen?" It was fun reliving those things and what these teenagers experience--that drama--and then it's these adults playing teenagers with that same drama of "what's going to happen? It's almost midnight!"

MS: I can't even remember what "Seasons of Love" sounds like anymore. I can only hear the Millenium Bug song, "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 0 0."

Timeline shifts have been necessary in The Simpsons canon because of the longevity of the show. I'm interested in Marge as an older millennial character, as she has to become for the purpose of this episode. How do you think the character fits in with her new generation?

EKA: I graduated in 2001, so in my mind, this is maybe 2000 when they did this. I think it still works in that Marge isn't the best with the internet, but she knows it, and also remembers the time before it, so I feel like it still tracks with Marge's character and how she is. She knows about Instagram, but she's not really on it, hasn't needed to be. She's been a stay-at-home mom for ten years so she's a little out of touch with that. But then--not that we see it--she probably has Facebook and that's how she reconnected with everyone so quickly. So she still does the older millennial things like Facebook. I don't think she knows about Tiktok--maybe she's heard it from Bart but that is not anything that she is getting on.

MS: A floating timeline is always sticky--or not sticky, I guess. We know they're always what age they are now. In the past, they've been different ages at different times, all over the place. People always think we're trying to override the past or undue the other episodes and I just think they all exist together in a giant pile.

EKA: Yeah, it's 2021 so to do stories like this, you have to kind of say, "this is when they graduated, man." Of course, I think it's more fun because when we were talking about the costumes, I'm like, "oh we have to have butterfly clips, we're doing the babydoll tee, low rise jeans." I was very into what these characters would have been wearing in high school, which was so much fun.

I always love when The Simpsons reaches back, even if it's to a time that's happening while The Simpsons was on.

MS : We did a little Easter egg for the fans recently, in another flashback episode. In a show where Homer is a teenager in the early '90s, a kid is wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt. We sort of enrage and delight the world.

Elisabeth, I know that you spent a lot of time working on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which is another one of my favorite shows. I wanted to know how you came to this love of musical storytelling.

EKA: I grew up in New York on Long Island, so I saw Phantom of the Opera--the opening cast in 1989 when I was 6--so it's always been a huge part of my life. I definitely just wanted to be on Broadway. I think being so close to Manhattan, too, you feel like that's what you do. It wasn't even being a movie star, it was just "I want to be on Broadway." I always did musical theatre and I took acting classes and singing and stuff like that; it has always been a huge part of me. As I got older and I realized that's not going to happen, I shifted focus, but it was always inside of me, all these songs. I've known Aline [Brosh McKenna] for 11 years now, so when she partnered with Rachel and was like "we're doing this musical comedy show," I was like "are you kidding me?!" It was truly just plucked from my brain. It was a really easy bit: they created this world that I happily wedged myself into and never left. Until we had to. But that was a pretty seamless thing.

Matt, I know you've been with the show since 1997, and you've gotten to write on some musical-adjacent episodes--I know you did "That '90s Show." Do you have a favorite musical moment that you've gotten to be a part of in your history with the show?

MS: I think this is my favorite musical moment because I didn't have to do anything. Elisabeth and Jack Dolgen did all the work, so I could just sit back and enjoy the ride. (laughing) That was my favorite.

EKA: You had thoughts!

MS: I had thoughts. I compare myself to the emperor in Amadeus, who goes to Mozart and says, "But there's too many notes!" He's just a fan. He's a fan of the music and has some opinions, but he doesn't understand the DNA of it. To me, this was so exciting for them to tell this story about a musical. I think the nugget of Marge's emotional journey is unique, and a story that we haven't told before--and a story that's very real, where people look to the past to feel good about their present, but if they dig too deep into the past they might find they don't like it, and they might have to reevaluate the present and it ruins all their memories. I like using that theme.

EKA: And finding out your memories weren't quite as you remembered is an upsetting thing, so it's a fun journey for her to go on.

MS: It's a very specific emotional journey that we can blow up into a whole episode, which is cool.

EKA: I think it's really fun to see Marge just as a woman, separate from motherhood in this episode. The kids are not in it a lot because she's stage managing and we were always saying, too, "she stage manages this family," so it makes sense that Marge was a stage manager for the show. But now we'll talk about Marge's singing voice. There's a lot of singing in this, and to do this really fun musical thing, Julie doesn't like to sing, but the story was about Marge so we were like, "what do we do?" And I was like, "can we just have Kristen Bell sing it?" This is in Marge's imagination, it's through Marge's lens, which is how we did Crazy Ex: Rachel/Rebecca was viewing these things in her imagination but then it was through Paula's point of view where she was imagining things. This was pretty much through Marge's lens completely, though. It makes sense that in Marge's mind, she has the voice of a Disney princess. We were lucky enough to get Kristen Bell to do these songs and it's incredible. I was pinching myself. I was on Zoom like, "play it cool, play it cool." Her pitch is perfect, she's relaxing in a chair and just hitting these notes. She's incredible.

MS: It was in an attic, wasn't she?

EKA: She was in Dax's studio. He had a big, huge chair that's leaning back, so she's reclining and hitting these notes, and I'm like, "Your diaphragm! It's fine? Okay, you know what you're doing."

MS: Were you saying it was like she was in a man cave?

EKA: Yeah, yeah.

MS: We saw the recording from a man cave, if you can believe it.

EKA: This tiny woman. Big man cave.

That's incredible. I was going to ask if you knew you were writing for her. When did Kristen Bell get involved?

EKA: Well, I wrote it in my writer's draft that it was Kristen Bell and that was the voice I heard in my head. It was 'we hope we get her,' and then someone was like, "well she's a friend of the show," and then she said yes. I still would have modeled the voice after that anyway. I wanted it to be the polar opposite of Marge, where it was this light, airy, crisp sound. [Bell] was always the archetype.

MS: Also, one of the inspirations for this was the show Encore! on Disney+, the weekly show or mini-documentary about restaging high school shows twenty years later. It's a really fun show and a great family show. Our thing isn't a show about a show about a show, it's just a musical about a musical, but it borrows a lot of the themes from that show, like people having to evaluate their lives and what went wrong, what went right, who did other things, who's a winner, who's a loser--all those kind of high school reunion themes that are really rich.

EKA: Like how Sasha comes back as the star of the show that everyone's lost touch with. She wants to put her best foot forward, and then we find out what's true and what's not.

MS: This is probably the only musical episode that has a major plot point about what is or what is not true in a playbill. Massive plot point.

Do you have high school theatre memories that you either wish you could relive or you're glad you don't have to?

EKA: I mean, I got to play Dorothy, so it was great. I didn't realize I was peaking in roles. I had some decent roles in college because I did theatre then too, but that was definitely it. I was never going to star in a musical again, which I don't think I realized in high school, which is fun. But yeah, I have wonderful theatre memories.

MS: I love musical theatre but my education is poor in that area. I never did theatre--or, I probably should have done theatre. But I always loved funny songs, that's why I loved Crazy Ex so much. I'm such a fan--there's so many funny songs in that. Sometimes I'll just go on a Crazy Ex run. I'll put on my playlist, do a big hour-long run, and listen to some of my favorite Crazy Ex songs. Then they all get stuck in my head and I literally can't sleep. What is that song, a boy band made of Joshes?

EKA: (laughing) Yes!

MS: (musicalizing) Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, no, I need to sleep! Do, do, do, do, do, do, do.

EKA: Matt is a huge fan and Al Jean is also a fan of Crazy Ex, so it was so nice to come to this show. It was a very small fan base, but a very loyal fan base. It's nice that my two bosses are fans.

MS: I feel like the tone of the songs in this are more a marriage of Simpson style songs and Crazy Ex style songs than maybe the old school Simpsons songs, which were really just parodying famous songs and adding a bunch of jokes. These are more storytelling, more moving the story forward, more emotionally transformative kinds of songs. The songs are doing all the heavy lifting here.

EKA: I also think of them as audition pieces because I loved to do comedy songs. I'm like, "this is such a good audition piece" because we have all of these different genres. We have the Wicked style where you can show off your range, then we have the ingenue, star of the backstage, and then we have "Sasha is a Massive Success," which is the Chicago style Roxie Hart bombastic kind of thing. I'm excited for everyone to hear them.

I'll definitely alert my actor friends that they should be paying attention. To wrap it up, what's the most exciting moment of the episode for you and what are you excited for people to see?

EKA: Truly the whole thing. It's a lot of dreams of mine coming true: I got to write songs with Jack Dolgen, who I've known throughout all of Crazy Ex. He brought these songs to life in a way that was just unbelievable, and that's what I felt like when every new song came out in Crazy Ex. Then we got Kristen Bell and then Sarah Chase, who is playing Sasha. I went to college with Sarah Chase and I heard her sing before I met her and that's when I was like, "Oh that's someone that's going to be on Broadway. I'm not going to be on Broadway. That is a Broadway voice." So it was all of that. And then when we saw the first color, the animators did such an incredible job, and when we brought in Kat Burns for choreography for a huge musical number through the streets of Springfield, I couldn't believe it was happening. All of it feels like a dream that I'm waiting to wake up from.

MS: It is pretty cool. I really like the way the show is infused with the specificity of people's experiences who have done theatre. Stage managing, and--what is it? Take five?

EKA: Thank you, five.

MS: Thank you, five, and all the headsets and playbills. Theatre is more than what we're seeing on the stage, it's a whole community. The whole thing is Marge is the star of the backstage, so I really like the theme 'are techies included with the cast?' and that kind of dynamic. I love anything that's super specific. When we're going to do something, I like that we get the details right about headsets and playbills and the prop book (laughing) the magical prop book. To me that's always satisfying, that we've put in stuff not just for the casual viewer but for people who have had this experience. We've done our research and we know that world.

EKA: I hope it feels like a love letter to everyone behind the scenes. What I loved about theatre is the ensemble, it takes everyone to put it on. I have a very good friend who's the stage manager of Phantom, so it was like, "I know what you do." I've gotten to visit backstage there and I was like "I can't believe you do this!" It's amazing.

MS: It's also exciting to me, more than just theatre--there's this great song called "Remember the Times" where all the cast sings about all the fun stuff they did and Marge realizes she didn't get to do any of it because she was too busy doing all the tech stuff and stage managing. She thought she had been part of this experience but then Marge realizes, oh no I didn't get to have the cheese fries at the diner. That's universal beyond theatre, that's anyone's high school life. They were excluded from something and maybe they didn't realize it, and it's sad and true. That's the emotional fuel of the whole episode.

EKA: I love that one so much, that's kind of a nineties homage to those Eve 6 songs, Green Day and Vitamin C--the high school songs, all of that. Jack killed it with that melody. That song will be in my head forever.

MS: One of the things Crazy Ex songs did was they'd have someone outside of the song commenting, "what the hell?" "oh my god" kind of thing. It's got that dynamic too. Like in the 'running with scissors' song, "Face Your Fears," when Rebecca/Rachel is saying "no that's bad advice" or "who would do that?" To be able to have one of those types of songs is special too. I'm going to do a one man show, a reprisal of all of my favorite songs. I'm finally going to take the stage after all these years, people have been begging for it.



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