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Jerry Springer puts on one Hell of an Opera



Review by Heather Metherell

THOSE who haven’t had the pleasure of watching The Jerry Springer Show need only to hear past program titles to get an idea of what it is like.

Gems include ‘I married a horse’ and ‘I refuse to wear clothes’; unashamedly gratuitous shows on which brazen members of the American public tell secrets, fight and speak in bleeps.

No such censoring exists in Richard Thomas’s Operatic version, which contains enough obscenities to make Billy Connolly blush. This is not the sort of Opera you would want to take your mother to – unless, of course, she is open minded about men who find sexual satisfaction from defecating in their underwear.

There is nothing new about setting swearing to music (as anyone who has seen ‘South Park - the movie’ will know). There is, however, a big difference between hearing ‘Shut your fucking face uncle fucker’ in the comfort or your own living room, and sitting in the Cambridge Theatre while ‘Chick with a dick’ is being blasted out by a leaping leopard-skin clad transvestite.

But this is beautiful, though eclectic, music, with influences ranging from Mozart and Kurt Weill, to Rogers and Hammerstein.

The Opera begins with a wonderful chorus in which the word, ‘Jerry’, is sung like a Kyrie Eleyson, while the chorus take their places at either side of the stage to become the stereotypical ‘Jerry’ audience, complete with mullets, sagging cleavages and velour tracksuits.

What follows is basically a fictional episode of the TV show, set to music. The acting is generally superb, with a great performance from David Badella, as Jerry’s desperate warm-up man, who camped it up to the audience throughout.

Other highlights include Andrew Bevis’ energetic turn as Tremont, the transvestite, which has a hint of The Darkness about it (but that could just be the skin-tight cat suit he’s wearing), and the wonderful Wills Morgan, as nappy-wearing, Montel, while Valda Aviks relishes her role as the frumpy crack addict, Zandra.

This is not your average Opera. In fact, chances are you’ll never have seen anything like this before and it is this freshness that makes it so fascinating, especially when treated to a high-kicking Ku Klux Klan (that is reminiscent of the all singing all dancing goose-stepping Nazis in ‘The Prioducers’) at the end of the second half.

But it is a one trick pony, and while you may be belly laughing all the way to the interval, the novelty soon wears off, and what is left is a dissatisfactory second half.

The Opera loses its memento and is tied to a tired religious theme that sees Jerry accidentally shot and taken to Hell to solve the eternal argument between the Devil and God.

While in Hell we see Jesus reveal himself as gay, the virgin Mary as a tired, bitter old woman, who disowned her son years ago, and God descending from on high, dressed like Elvis on a giant gold swing.

The second half tries too hard and says too much. The success of Jerry Springer’s show is that we can laugh at those poor individuals without any guilt, or remorse, and then leave them behind when we change channels.

It was never supposed to be a programme of morals, that shows the consequences of the man who married his horse, or what happened to the child who’s mother refuses to wear clothes.

But, as former guests troop sombrely down to Hell to tell Jerry of how dreadful their lives have been since the show, it becomes painfully apparent that Jerry Springer the Opera is doing just that.

That said Jerry Springer – The Opera is both interesting and funny and, even though it does go walkabout in the second half, we shouldn’t worry too much as Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee (director) are constantly rewriting it.

Plus, the cracking finale makes up for it, as the entire cast don Jerry wigs and suits and dance in formation to ‘This is my Jerry Springer moment’.

I don’t think you will ever find a moment in an Opera quite a surreal as that.

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