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by Michael Portantiere


    Jerry Springer.jpg

    "I WAS JILTED BY A LESBIAN DWARF"

    "It's got tragedy. It's got violence. There are people screaming at each other, and you can't understand what they're saying. It's perfect for opera!" So says composer Richard Thomas of The Jerry Springer Show, the trash TV program that inspired the post-modern opera he wrote in collaboration with Stewart Lee.

    Upon its opening at the National Theatre in London in 2003, Jerry Springer: The Opera became such a monster hit that it soon transferred to the Cambridge Theatre in the West End. A Broadway production was announced but later canceled for a number of reasons, including fears of controversy; an organization named Christian Voice had led street protests against the 2005 BBC-TV telecast of the opera and had threatened to bring blasphemy charges against the production due to its depiction of Judeo-Christian figures.

    Now, following its 2007 U.S. premiere at the Bailiwick Repertory in Chicago, Jerry Springer: The Opera is finally coming to New York. It will be performed in concert at Carnegie Hall on January 29 and 30, with Harvey Keitel set to play the title role -- the only character who doesn't sing. The cast also includes Linda Balgord, Emily Skinner, Max von Essen, and one holdover from London: David Bedella as Warm-Up Man/Satan. Jason Moore (Avenue Q, the upcoming Shrek the Musical) and Stephen Oremus (Avenue Q, Wicked, All Shook Up, High Fidelity) are respectively serving as director and musical director.

    The opera achieves much of its effect through Thomas and Lee having set phrases such as "I Was Jilted by a Lesbian Dwarf," "My Mom Used to Be My Dad," and "Chick With a Dick" to music that calls to mind a Bach oratorio. "I was sort of shocked and bowled over with laughter when I saw the show in London," said Moore in a recent interview with BroadwayStars.com, "but I also appreciated the beauty of the music and the choral singing. For all of its outrageousness, it's really about a man who's having a crisis of faith. I understand that Jerry Springer was very supportive of the show in London; I think he was flattered that an opera had been written about him, and that his name was in the title.

    "For our production, we're getting some actual props and T-shirts from The Jerry Springer Show," adds Moore. "Because television is so much a part of the world of Jerry Springer, we'll be using projections. We're doing it as a concert, but that doesn't mean people will be wearing tuxedos and using music stands. There'll be some tap dancing in the show, there will be a lot of costume pieces -- and, of course, there's the fighting."

    Though Jerry Springer: The Opera may sound like one joke spread over two hours or more, Stephen Oremus feels it avoids that trap due to the quality of the music. "The show is only orchestrated for eight pieces, but it's quite ingenious," he remarks. "It doesn't have a bass or any live strings, but it sounds spectacular. There's a 22-voice choir, and they sometimes act as orchestration. You have a huge sound coming from this small group of musicians and this large group of singers.

    "As I've been working on the piece, I've come to appreciate it more and more," says Oremus. "Some of it is shocking, some of it is hilarious, and some of it is beautiful. It's much more than a bunch of dirty words strung together. I can't wait to introduce it to New York; I think it's going to be an unforgettable evening."

    Does the opera make any sort of moral judgment in regard to its (anti)hero? "I don't think so," replies Jason Moore. "It asks the question, 'Does Jerry create this kind of behavior in humans, or does he just hold up a mirror to it? What does his show say about people who behave so badly? And what does it say about those of us who don't act that way but want to watch it?"

    The opera's arrival at Carnegie Hall begs the question of whether or not it would it be a hit on Broadway. Says Moore, "I find myself constantly surprised -- sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not -- by what's successful on Broadway. Whenever I make a prediction, I seem to be wrong. That even applies to my own shows. Jerry Springer makes you laugh, and the music is great. Some of the subject matter dances very close to the line of what's acceptable, but it's all a question of taste. When we did Avenue Q, I never thought Broadway audiences would react so well to puppets fucking. So I leave it to the audience."

    Monday, January 21, 2008 at 10:05 AM | Item Link


    Michael Portantiere comes to BroadwayStars with more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for such media outlets as TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has also contributed articles and reviews to AfterElton.com, Playbill, and Stagebill, and has written notes for several major cast albums. Additionally, Michael is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several notable websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.)
    He can be reached at michael@broadwaystars.com


    The last five columns written by Michael Portantiere:

    07/13/2010: Presidential Material

    07/04/2010: Hardy Boy

    06/29/2010: High School Stars

    06/21/2010: Falling in Love Again

    06/17/2010: A Meeting of the 'mos (and Their Friends)

    For a listing of all features written by Michael, click here.

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