Center Presents Animaniacs: In Concert
Thursday, Oct 5, 7:30 p.m. ET
Known for its topical and multilayered humor that appeals to all ages, the Animaniacs TV series was an instant classic when it debuted in the 1990s. Now, the interactive stage production Animaniacs: In Concert stars the original Emmy-winning composer, Randy Rogel, on piano and actors Rob Paulsen (the Emmy-winning voice of Pinky and Yakko on Animaniacs) and Maurice LaMarche (The Brain), performing tunes and sharing fascinating and hilarious behind-the-scenes tales of how the characters, stories and songs were developed. Video clips from the series accompany this rollicking ride through the creative process.
It was one of the greatest honors of my entertainment journalism career to speak with Randy Rogel and Rob Paulsen via Zoom.
Janelle Morrison: I’m a fan of your other works, but Animaniacs came out when I was in high school —and now that I’ve exposed my age …
Rob Paulsen: Excuse me, but Randy and I were the entertainment at the last supper. My high school yearbook photo is a cave painting, so you don’t have to worry about your age.
JM [Laughing]: Animaniacs became such a part of our lives, especially for the tail end of Gen X. We still quote it to this day. And I think it was the last great cartoon of our generation.
Rob: I have to say this is the best part of our “job.” Randy and I are in the “happy” business. It’s kind of a remarkable thing to be associated with something that has not only proven itself inarguably that it is worthy of your kind of praise, but to get another crack at it a couple of years ago, with the “King of Hollywood” [Steven Spielberg], with Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, Jess Harnell and Randy’s music again … talk about lightning in a bottle.
This is what our show is really about. It really nails that profoundly precious part of your soul. It’s no different than remembering the smell of your grandmother’s cooking, your mom’s perfume or the first song you can remember lyrics to.
Randy Rogel: And you don’t have to know Animaniacs in order to enjoy the show. It stands on its own. What’s fun for a lot of the fans too is we’ll ask, “Do you want to hear a song that the network killed?” Or “Do you want to hear the original version before they made us change it?” And of course, with Rob and Maurice and all the incredible voices they do.
Rob: The laughter is the most precious part of what we do. It’s like having a superpower where all you have to do is say “Narf” or “Hello Janelle,” and that look on your face … there is nothing that can be more complimentary or gratifying for a performer, than knowing that you’re involved in something that with just one syllable, you can bring a smile to someone’s face. That is a really big deal for us, and we’re really glad to be able to come to your neck of the woods and do this.
Randy: It’s a really lovely, fun show. There’s a lot of laughs, a lot of great animations and a lot of wonderful songs and stories. And then these guys [Rob and Maurice] break into all these voices. It’s just as fun for us as it is for the audiences.
Rob: Laughter is universal … or Warner Brothers or Disney or whatever. [Laughing] Laughter transcends language, ethnicity, gender identity, and all this stuff that we’re dealing with now. Humans love to laugh. And you’ll see at the show, it’s just relentless, a relentless pounding of “happy.”
JM: I’m always interested in learning about people’s creative processes. Would you mind describing yours?
Randy: I have an engineering degree, and with that, you have these steps that if you follow, you will build a bridge and it will work or an airplane and it will fly. With art, nothing says, “When you spend an entire day writing [or] if you do these 10 things, you’ll have a hit!” It doesn’t work that way, and so there is always that know in your stomach. If you come to the show, I’ll show you exactly how some of these songs get created. Know your craft. If you’re a writer, musician, actor or whatever, follow the people who really turn you on to the things you’re really passionate about. That will lead you to your creative place, and when you’re big and famous, you can be Mel Gibson and make “Hamlet.” But in the meantime, do the things that will hit the home runs, and that’s how you get a career.
Rob: It’s a deeply collaborative effort, and when it works, it’s magic. When I came to Hollywood, just after the Eisenhower administration, I was smart enough to know that I knew nothing. I have surrounded myself with people who are way better. The creative process is sort of nebulous. I don’t know if Andy Warhol could’ve explained to me why a picture of a Campbell Soup can works, but it’s iconic. If you’re here [Hollywood] long enough, you’ll get a shot. Capitalizing on it, making a career out of it and still working when you’re almost 70 years old, that’s a different story. I’m not going to be so falsely modest to say that I’m lucky. I’m fortunate that I was smart to put myself in a position to get lucky.
Randy: I was talking with Maurice, and he was asking me about this. I said that my job is to put it over the plate. And if I can get it anywhere near the plate, then a guy like Maurice or Rob can hit it over the fence. You can’t expect Rob to hit it over the fence if you give him crappy material. But if we work together and I can give them good material, oh my God … they elevate it into something else. And then, of course, we have the artists who draw it and the orchestra and everybody in the room has to bring their game, and when we all do, that’s when the magic happens.
JM: We cannot wait to see you in Carmel in October!
Randy: The real treat for me, Rob and everyone in this show is when we get to see the audience reacting to what we’ve written, what we’ve done and our performances. That’s really fun because we get to see how much joy it brings, and that is just an incalculable joy to us. Everybody, come! You’re going to love this show!