Jerry Springer The Opera

Culturebot has spies everywhere! Over the holidays one of our intrepid Culturebot Agents braved the Atlantic and journeyed to London to bring back tales of Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Jerry Springer: The Opera
reviewed by Steve Jacobs

Over the last couple of seasons, Broadway audiences have been treated to urine towns, penis puppetry, fornicating puppets and dancing Nazis. Could they be ready for chicks-with-dicks, chocolate-dipped lesbians, diaper sex and dancing Ku Klux Klansmen? In an opera?

Folks on that libertine sceptered isle across the pond have been enjoying just that this season as Jerry Springer: The Opera has dominated the West End since it opened in October.

Calling the show an opera might be a bit of a stretch. While there are some lovely arias, Verdi-esque choruses and Gregorian melismas, JSTO functions more as a hodgepodge – with the operatic choruses augmented by showtunes, jazz, r&b and Britpop.

Much of the libretto (written by the British comedian Stewart Lee, and so explicit it would make a marine blush) is sung by Jerry Springer’s on-stage audience – filling the role of the Greek chorus – which, as you have a right to expect, is generously sprinkled with ample-caboosed women and upturned hands. As is the responsibility of any Greek chorus, Jerry’s audience comments on the unfolding action – generally with such helpful bon mots as:

“Dirty whore! Dirty whore! Filthy dirty slut whore! Slut junkie!!”

The audience/Greek chorus introduces the theater audience to the show, and Jerry, and then prepares us for the show’s guests with a rousing little round of “Bring on the Losers!”

The Losers, of course, will be familiar to any regular viewer of the source material, and that’s perhaps one of the show’s fundamental problems. Jerry and his cohorts have so desensitized the viewing public to lesbian dwarves, cross-dressing pole dancers and shit-covered infantilists that there is really nothing very shocking about them anymore. Not even in Peoria (well, maybe shit-covered infantilists still shock… except in Berlin).

Though, I must admit, there is a certain amount of glee to be had from seeing these characters on the grand stage of the Victorian-era Cambridge Theatre, earnestly singing:

“It may seem pathetic… like a sure lack of class,
I only feel the real me when the shit pours out of my ass,
So if you feel blue, my advice to you is….
Poop your fucking pants!!”

It lends a certain amount of pathos to the proceedings that daytime TV just cannot muster. Of course, when the chorus retorts with:

“You’re so tacky, you’re so sad
because your brother is your dad.

You’re so slow, you’re so dumb
Because you live off gay men’s cum.”

Any sense of gravitas is quickly extinguished.

JSTO was developed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and brought to the London stage by Nicholas Hytner, the new director of the National Theater.

Jerry Springer, (the only non-singing role), is played by Michael Brandon, a native Brooklynite who made his name in the UK in the 80s TV police drama, “Dempsey & Makepeace.” Americans should know him only as the ex-husband of former Bionic Woman, Lindsay Wagner. Either way, he’s an uncannily excellent Jerry, and manages to play the whole thing straight, which I think is the only successful way to approach such a role. Interestingly enough, the British press reported that the real Jerry Springer saw the show in Edinburgh and was only upset that he hadn’t thought up the show first. Not really surprising,…after all, how does one satirize self-parody?

As I mentioned, this is, of course, the inherent problem in such a production and, by the time the second act rolled around – where Jerry is sent to Hell and must stage a show to bring a rapprochement between Satan and Jesus (with teen-mother Mary as a special guest), I must admit that I felt like I had already seen the whole thing on an episode of “South Park”.

JSTO seemed to be trying a wee bit too much to shock, pandering to the twentysomethings to just get their asses into a West End theater. That seems to be emblematic of so much of contemporary British culture these days – from the Turner Prize finalists at the Tate to the new crop of shows on Channel 4 to Tony Blair’s proclamation of “Cool Britannia”.

As the lights came up, a young woman next to me turned to her mother, a sixtyish woman in pearls and gray flannel, and asked if she had enjoyed the show. “Oh yes, quite,” came the response.

Oh well… Sic Transit Outrageousness.

Read what The Guardian has to say.

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