‘They’re Zany to the Max’: An Evening with the Stars of ‘Animaniacs in Concert’

Yakko, Wakko and Dot in A minor
‘They’re Zany to the Max’: An Evening with the Stars of ‘Animaniacs in Concert’

Back in February, Hulu released the third and final season of the rebooted Animaniacs series. But if you’re still hankering for another dose of the Warner siblings and Pinky and the Brain, there is hope for you yet. 

For the past decade, prolific voice actor Rob Paulsen, who gave life to Yakko, Pinky and countless others on Animaniacs, has teamed up with Randy Rogel, the musical genius behind several of the show’s greatest songs, for the Animaniacs in Concert. The road show is filled with stories and songs from one of the most beloved animated series from the 1990s and was recently restructured to add a third man to the act: Maurice LaMarche, the voice of the Brain. 

A shot from Animaniacs in Concert at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, Long Island. Rogel is at the piano, LaMarche (left) and Paulsen are center stage.

I recently ventured down to Molloy College on Long Island to catch the show, joining a crowd of hundreds. While many, like me, were ’90s kids who grew up with the show — some even bringing their kids with them — there was also a healthy number of younger people who must have picked up Animaniacs via streaming. 

Upon entering the theater, I was surprised to find a 52-piece orchestra warming up. I’d only ever seen the nightclub version of the show, consisting of Rogel at his piano and Paulsen on vocals. The duo led off with “Variety Speak,” one of the deeper cuts from the series dissecting show-business terminology. From there, Paulsen and Rogel shared stories about the series — including a hilarious one about the president of Warner Bros. — and speculated on why the 30-year-old series has endured. They also traded off singing duties on various songs, with Paulsen hitting Yakko’s and Rogel doing ones by Wakko and Dot. 

About 30 minutes in, LaMarche made his grand entrance, unleashing his Orson Welles-like voice of the Brain. Paulsen, the voice of Pinky, naturally joined in, with the pair singing an original song in character.

After intermission, Rogel and Paulsen got into more deep cuts, including songs axed from the series and other tunes from the short-lived sister series Histeria! LaMarche popped in and out, culminating in a funny “Who’s on First” type sketch with Pinky and the Brain written by Rogel. The show concluded with Paulsen’s most iconic Yakko song, “Yakko’s World.”

The audience's reaction to the show was utter and unbridled joy, as Rogel’s songs, paired with Paulsen’s singing, are an unabashed nostalgia-fest. If you’re a fan of the series and Animaniacs in Concert is coming to your town, check it out for a delightful romp down memory lane. In the meantime, I was able to catch up with Paulsen, Rogel and LaMarche after the show to hear how they’re still able to stay in tune with each other — and Animaniacs — after all these years. 

Where did the idea for Animaniacs in Concert come from?

Rob Paulsen, voice of Yakko and Pinky: It came about as a collaborative thing way back in 2011 or 2012. I did a podcast for many years called Talkin’ Toons, and I started out going to Moe’s (Maurice’s) house and Nancy Cartwright’s house and things like that. Then, I started doing it at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club, which was on the Universal Citywalk at the time. One night, I was doing kind of an Animaniacs-themed thing, and Moe came out. Randy was there, and I suggested, “Hey Randy, we should do an evening of your songs.” So we did that one night, and the audience loved it.

Randy Rogel, writer and composer on Animaniacs: We just winged it, really, but it went real well, and they had us back to do it again. Then the agent we had at the time was like, “I think this is a show.”

Paulsen: After that, Randy made some calls, and Sam Register, the head of Warner Bros. Animation, who is a good friend and supporter, greased the wheels to get us to the right people. We chose to get the permission first. Sometimes people say it’s easier to ask forgiveness, but we thought, “Nah, these guys have paid for my house.”

Everybody was happy for us to do this, but then we got to the end, and they said, “By the way, have you talked to Steven?” We hadn’t, so we got a hold of Jean MacCurdy, who used to be the head of Warner Bros. Animation, and she reached out to Steven Spielberg’s publicist. Within an hour, we heard back, and he said, “As long as they don’t say ‘Produced by Steven Spielberg,’ go ahead.” And that’s how it happened. 

Maurice, how did you get in on the act?

Maurice LaMarche, voice of The Brain: We did a couple of one-offs at first. Randy wrote that “Take Over the World” song and later the “Who’s Hungary?” sketch — Rob and I had previously done “Who’s on First” some years ago at the San Francisco Sketch Fest, so the “Who’s Hungary?” sketch came out of that. Anyway, those shows went so well that they asked me to join a little under a year ago. Now, I’m with them on almost all their dates. 

I’ve seen the show twice before, but never with an orchestra. How different is it for you guys to do it with one?

Rogel: It’s tougher with the orchestra. At one point, as you may have seen, we weren’t perfectly in sync with the cartoon clip. Whereas I can slow down or speed up with the piano, the orchestra is like a train; there’s no stopping it. But it’s much more exciting with a symphony. This one was a 52-piece orchestra, but we’ve done it with as big as 88. We’re getting ready to do it with the Toronto Symphony in March, and they’re also 88. 

You guys get into this a bit on stage, but why do you think Animaniacs has endured?

Rogel: I think it’s because of the amazing talent and the good writing. 

LaMarche: It was a perfect marriage of all those things. I’ve been on 400 shows, and the ones with great writing are the ones that rise to the top. FuturamaThe CriticAnimaniacs and Pinky and the Brain are the ones that stand out. Animaniacs had that perfect marriage of great writing, great music and great voice talent, and since it had the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg on it, we could go places that people might otherwise say “no” to. When Steven wants it done, it gets done.

Paulsen: As for Animaniacs in Concert, I hope one day we can have Steven there and do this at the Hollywood Bowl. Regardless, I’m the luckiest guy on Earth. Now, if I were to drop dead right now, it would be pretty inconvenient for everybody, especially me, but man, what a life. To be able to have this as I’m closer to the end, with these people — if there’s a lottery of life, I’ve won. 

LaMarche: I still have some complaints.

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