Satirical musical spoof of 90’s TV show with arias and dancing reflects the chaos of our times.
By: Patrick Christiano
February 23, 2018: With a reality TV star firmly ensconced in the White House, the time is ripe for the New Group’s production of Jerry Springer – The Opera, a satirical musical romp by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee. The show opened Off Broadway last night at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Linney Theatre for a limited run through March 11th. The musical, directed by John Rando, delivers the deliciously vulgar goods, replete with stunning arias and spirited dancing, choreographed by Chris Bailey.
Performed by a marvelous cast of seventeen, “word is,” the show is already sold out for the entire run. The musical premiered at the National Theater in London 15 years ago winning the 2003 Olivier Award for best new musical. However, John Rando and the New Group have made some tweaks since the 2003 production, and although Jerry Springer was staged previously as a concert in New York, this is the first full-scale production, which couldn’t be more perversely appropriate.
Director John Rando affectively combines elements of high and low brow culture to make a witty comment on the unrestrained behavior of our current times, which is being echoed by the “Twitter King” now occupying our White House. Rando’s meticulous staging never lets the energy sag, and he beautifully juxtaposes the arias with raunchy scenes spoofing the chaos of the 90’s TV series, best known for its vulgar conflicts between sparring guests.
“The Jerry Springer TV Show” was unusual amongst chat shows, because the show’s self-obsessed guests revealed their most dreadful “guilty secrets,” often to loved ones, on public television. Guests would confess obscure sexual perversities or deeds of heartbreaking betrayal. The shock and total distaste was exactly the reason for the show’s continued success, and Jerry Springer – The Opera cleverly captures the essence of the original TV show. This daring mix of vulgar expletives with high opera gives Jerry Springer – The Opera an outrageous edginess that keeps you amused more often than not.
Springer, played by a good-natured Terrence Mann, didn’t sing in the original production, but here he has been given a song that opens Act II. Otherwise the songs give voice to outsiders, in a wide range of styles from disco to opera.
Act I takes the usual format of a Jerry Springer Show with guests making bizarre revelations while being verbally abused by the audience. Guests are trotted out with names like Dwight, Peaches, Shawntel, and Chucky, all amusingly offensive, and each with their special perverted desire. Amongst them is guy running around in a diaper, played by Justin Keyes, who wants his girlfriend to be his mommy, and an extremely heavy-set woman, who dreams of being a poll dancer, the outstanding Tiffany Mann. They all have terrific musical moments.
Act II takes place in Purgatory, where Satan, played by a smooth Will Swenson, forces Jerry to put on a show for him. Here we meet figures from Christianity, God, Jesus and Mary, the teenage mother of God, along with Adam and Eve. They all make their own confessions and are treated with the same disdain as all the other guests. Here the characters are now played by actors, who portrayed guests in Act I, giving the second act the appearance of a Jerry nightmare. The devil wants Jerry to reconcile good and evil, while demanding an apology from God and an extreme punishment, if Jerry doesn’t perform.
Richard Thomas, the composer of the operatic score, combines classical highbrow opera with the obscenities from the lowbrow Jerry Springer Show. What a surprise that songs filled with four letter words, sung like opera, could be so outrageously funny. Superbly sung and well-acted Jerry Springer -The Opera promises to offend even the most liberal with its profanity and collection of zany deplorables. This is raunchy fun for the masses.
This production features Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Sarah Laux, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Joshua D. Reid, Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky and Fight Direction by Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum. Casting by Telsey + Company, Cesar A. Rocha, CSA. Production Stage Manager: James Harker.
Cast: Terrence Mann, Will Swenson, Jennifer Allen, Florrie Bagel, Brandon Contreras, Sean Patrick Doyle, Bradley Greer, Luke Grooms, Nathaniel Hackmann, Billy Hepfinger, Justin Keyes, Beth Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth Loyacano, Tiffany Mann, Jill Paice, Kim Steele and Nichole Turner
Music and lyrics by Richard Thomas; Book and additional lyrics by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas; Choreography by Chris Bailey; Directed by John Rando
Jerry Springer – The Opera is now playing at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Linney Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street-, through March 11, 2018. For tickets or subscription to the New Group call 212-279-4200
Photography: Monique Carboni