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A CurtainUp Review
Jerry Springer - The Opera
By Lizzie Loveridge
It is a splendid idea. The high drama of Jerry Springer's talk show with its parade of dysfunction and sexual weirdness transposed into an operatic format. Composer Richard Thomas developed the Opera Device in the form of Loré Lixenburg, as a musical shield against a hostile crowd of a cabaret in a North London pub. She was wheeled on to sing beautiful arias to silence hecklers. Jerry Springer - The Opera was a hit in its concert version at last year's Edinburgh Festival having metamorphosed from an earlier version at Battersea Arts Centre. Studios USA who own the rights to The Jerry Springer Show declined to back JSTO after they objected to the opera's language, and sexual and religious content. Irony or what? But London born Jerry Springer saw it in Edinburgh in August 2002 and gave that version of the show his blessing.
There are two acts, one in this world, the other in the next. The first act is a usual Jerry Springer show on the theme of guilty secrets, except that all bar Jerry (Michael Brandon) sing their parts. Morbidly obese Dwight (Benjamin Lake) needs to tell his fiancée Peaches (Loré Lixenburg) that he has been seeing another woman, her best friend, Zandra (Vald Aviks). Peaches in turn confesses to having given a man a golden shower (please don't write in and ask what it is) and Dwight trumps with another mistress, but this one is Tremont (Andrew Bevis), a drop dead gorgeous transvestite, the "chick with a dick".
There are two more scenarios, the scatalogical Montel (Wills Morgan) who wants to dress up in diapers, his fiancée Andrea (Sally Bourne) and his friend Baby Jane (Loré Lixenburg). Shawntel (Alison Jiear) wants to be a lap dancer and her Hillbilly husband Chucky (Marcus Cunningham) objects while haunting lap dancing clubs. Shawntel is disowned by her mother Irene (Valda Aviks).
The second act takes place in hospital and Hell. Jerry was shot along with most of the KKK and is faced with a procession of the guests from the show whose lives have been ruined. The Devil (David Bedella) asks Jerry to play the show from Hell. He's bored living in Hell and wants to use Jerry's show to secure a second chance. The participants are Satan, Jesus (Wills Morgan) Adam (Marcus Cunningham) and Eve (Alison Jiear) and God (Benjamin Lake) and the angels.
All these figures from the Bible cleverly fall into the Jerry Springer show format. Eve comes to complain to Jesus that she has been harshly treated for taking one measly apple. Adam says it wasn't his fault. Satan reprimands Jesus for whining about his crucifixion. "Get Over It", he says. Mary, mother of Jesus (Valda Aviks) complains about her son leaving her to grow old alone. The usual spat between Springer's guests breaks out and we are privileged to have the mock wisdom of Jerry's Final Thought. A post curtain call finale has tap dancing clones of Jerry on an Aida-like scale.
Musically the first half tends towards the classical repertoire, like Sondheim drawing on opera with the second having some rock and even country music. It may be musically eclectic but there should be something to please everyone and much of it is pleasingly melodic. These singers are absolutely top notch and can handle the operatic range. The opening march to greet Jerry would do credit to the entrance of some gladiators. The finale is a choral "Jerry (Kyrie) Eleison". It is very funny to hear beautiful music with such terrible foul-mouthed language. Baby Jane, in mob cap and frilly baby frock and diapers, sings Poop your fucking pants to a chorus of the audience posing with garlanded hoops. I loved the pretty duet between Shawntel, the wannabe lapdancer and Chucky her Klu Klux Klan husband, "I don't give a fuck no more/If people think I'm a whore". Who will be able to forget the two word singing competition between Jesus and the Devil, Satan repeatedly singing "Fuck", Jesus countering with "Talk (to the stigmata)" Or God's country lament, "It Ain't Easy Being Me". Stewart Lee's lyrics are witty, amusing and have so much profanity that if there were to be coyly beeped out as on the American TV show, JSTO would sound like the Parisian rush hour.
Michael Brandon's Jerry is perfect. From Row S he looked right and sounded exact -- his mannerisms, the head in hands, and the blonde wig all authentic. Giving him only dialogue makes him a bystander, an observer and detaches him from the throng that is his singing guests and his audience. He delivers those rather trite asides as if they are deeply philosophical and almost conned me into thinking they might be, until you examine what he actually said. He has plenty of wry looks as his guests mine new depths of betrayal and self-exposure. American David Bedella as the athletic warm up man looks and dances like Sammy Davies Jr and sings so well. After being sacked by Springer, he becomes the Devil and in the red suit he reminded me of the young Little Richard. Benjamin Lake plays Dwight the slob and later God as a magnificent TV preacher-like icon, in white suit and diamante cummerbund and freshly waved hair. He sounds magnificent, that deep register. Alison Jiear as Shawntel and Eve has a voice from heaven.
I liked a dance routine based on Tremont arguing with the audience and holding out her hand like a policeman stopping a motorist but facing away in a gesture of rejection. "Talk to the Hand". Everyone joins in with arms and hand movements.
The set for the first act is a brick walled studio, green chaired, copy of the TV show with Chicago skyline through the window. Security guards with their necklace ID stand and look at us with their arms crossed. There are surprises like a Valkyrie who flies out of a brick arch to remind Jerry of his moral responsibility. There are commercial breaks where tv screens descend and we are treated to some spoof ads. The first act finale features a high kicking chorus line of Klu Klux Klan figures and an authentic burning cross. Hell is even more exciting visually with wonderful flash fires and a projected backdrop of descending, naked people or conveyor belt like naked people on moving staircases as if in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. In Hell as the guests from the first show reappear to tell Jerry the terrible result of their TV fame, they are dressed in their original clothes but with all the colour gone from their faces, their hair, their garments in a world of grey and misery.
Jerry Springer - The Opera comes with a warning that it will offend many, but I think it's the most innovative and enjoyable musical I've ever seen at the National . If it doesn't get at least one best musical ward of 2003, I'll wear my "Dirty Whore" badge (free gift from JSTO) to the Opera House, Covent Garden.
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