Welcome to the third installment of Stay Tuned: Musical Television Episodes from Gilligan’s Island to Grey’s Anatomy. To view all of the articles in the series, click the #stay tuned tag in the left column or click here.
Today’s look at musical television episodes centers on “All Singing, All Dancing” from season 9 episode 11 of The Simpsons, which aired January 4, 1998 on Fox. This is the second episode of The Simpsons series to prominently feature music.
In this clip episode, the Simpsons discover that the violent gun slinging video they rented turns out to be the musical Paint Your Wagon. Homer and Bart are horrified when the rough-and-tough characters of the movie break into song. When Homer exclaims, “singing is the lowest form of communication,” Marge and Lisa initiate a series of flashbacks revealing previous musical moments in the series, proving that the one thing worse than musical comedy is “when a long running series does a cheesy clip show.” In this musical clip show, The Simpsons reach new heights of self-referential humor.
Longtime Simpsons Composer Alf Clausen wrote the music and Steve O’Donnell wrote the lyrics for this episode. The writers parody The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1978) with, “We Put the Spring in Springfield.” In “Springfield, Springfield,” strongly influenced by “New York, New York” from On the Town (1944), Bart and Milhouse hit the jackpot and go on a spending spree throughout the city. In “See My Vest,” a send off of “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast (1991), Mr. Burns extols the virtues of animal fur as he plots to make a luxury coat out of greyhound puppies. In a moment of irony, Krusty the Clown sings Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music (1973). Other musical references include The Music Man (1957) and Cats (1982).
In spite of its numerous musical theatre allusions and the fact that it is almost completely sung-through, this episode is not a musical. The songs do not shape an overall narrative arc, they are thrown in with haphazard abandon— a potpourri of musical moments. The primary function of music in this episode is for parodic purposes. Despite some humorous moments, “All Singing, All Dancing” lacks true imagination and presents musicals as silly entertainments where people randomly break into song. “All Singing, All Dancing” more closely resembles a variety show of the early 20th century and does not represent the sophisticated, narrative-driven theatrical form that musical theatre has evolved into. I only hope that viewers of The Simpsons unfamiliar with Broadway musicals do not allow this episode to negatively shape their perceptions of musical theatre.
“Gonna Paint Our Wagon”
“A Singing, Dancing, Entertainment Machine”
“Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?”
“Send in the Clowns”
“See My Vest”
“We Do (The Stonecutters’ Song)”
Episode Stats The Simpsons - “All Singing, All Dancing”
Season 9, Episode 11
Air Date: 1/4/98
Director: Mark Ervin
Writer: Steve O’Donnell
Original Music: Alf Clausen
Lyrics: Steve O’Donnell
Watch the Episode
Buy Season 9 on Amazon.com
Check http://www.free-tv-video-online.me/ or similar sites to find links to the full episode.