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Jerry Springer - The Opera

Back online, finally... it's been a very odd, unsettling and enlightening week, being more or less cut off from the internet crutch. I read a lot. I realised I spend too much time on the internet...

Having been told that work didn't need me to come in after all, I decided this was a message from the Almighty: time to put into action Operation GetABleedingLifeAlready and haul myself off to the National Theatre this bright and sunny Saturday afternoon.

The National is one of Britain's great temples of culture: founded by Laurence Olivier, it is home to some of the world's best theatre. Tom Stoppard launched his latest trilogy of plays there last summer. It's staged radical Shakespeare productions and bright and shiny adaptations of classic Broadway musicals; it's a shining jewel in London's artistic tiara.

So of course, I went to see Jerry Springer - The Opera.

So I am going to review it but I'm going to put it behind a cut tag because it will contain detailed plot points and filth.

As a quick guide: Did you find South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut:

(a) a puerile tour through the minds of two sophomoric nitwits with a potty humour obsession who think that swearing is big and clever, even though it's not;


(b) a shining jewel of political satire, with fabulous songs, liberally laced with puerile humour, scatological jokes and pointless swearing, but, you know, in a good way?

If (a) thank you, but you'd hate this. If (b), read on...

There are several things you should know about this right off the bat.

(1) When they say "The Opera" they are not kidding. They're not talking about musical theatre, naughty cabaret revue or recital, they're talking about OPERA.

And yes, there are electric guitars in there, but there's also one of Stockhausen's favourite sopranos, Handel and Bach-style arias and a 30-strong cast singing the bejazus out of the thing.

And really, you haven't lived until you've heard an opera chorus singing "COCKSUCKER!" in six-part harmony.

I'm just sayin'.

(2) I really don't think that there's a level on which this show is not offensive.

It took me just over an hour to get home, during which I pondered all the levels of offence and I have to say that short of insulting the Prophet Mohammed or singing a rousing chorus of "Buddha is a Fat Bastard and so is Your Mother" they covered all the offensive bases better than anything I've ever seen.

(3) I laughed so hard I cried.

It's freakishly brilliant. I immediately wanted to go buy another ticket because it's going to be sold out very soon. It was almost sold out on a Saturday afternoon and they haven't even had the press night yet.

This originated with Cluub Zarathustra, a surreal comedy night at which, whenever there were hecklers, they would wheel out the 'Opera Device'; a soprano who would sing filthy putdowns to beautiful classical themes.

A few years later the composer, Richard Thomas, began workshopping a half-hour piece called "How to Write an Opera About Jerry Springer". A comedian called Stewart Lee aproached him about writing a libretto which would indulge both their appetites for absurd humour, and they took the result to the Edinburgh Festival, where it was such a hit that Jerry Springer actually came to see it and gave it his blessing.

There's a 30-or-so-strong cast who sing wonderfully, indeed the only person who does not sing is Jerry himself, played by Michael Brandon. Jerry is part of the proceedings and yet above them at the same time, not judging but ever-so-slightly superior and sanctimonious -- much like the real Jerry.

Watching the show, you're torn between loving what you see and knowing that you should be utterly appalled by what they're saying. Except you're not, because it's excruciatingly funny or utterly silly by turns.

It is uncannily like the real show, but without the swearing being bleeped out.

The first half begins with Jerry Springer hosting a normal sort of show called "I've got a secret". It is comprised of the three sets of guests: the slob who is having an affair behind his fiancee's back with her best friend, a crack whore [the chorus sings "Crack whooooore!"], and a lady boy [the chorus sings "chick with a dick"]; the fully grown man, a big, sweet-looking black guy with a luscious baritone, who just wants to soil his daiper and be allowed to be a baby; and finally the fiftysomething would-be lapdancer and her foul, racist husband.

It all sounds very tawdry but the sheer joy of the music and the sometimes witty, sometimes daft lyrics carries it through. Also, how can you beat an operatic chorus singing "what the fuck? what the fuck? What the fucking fucking fuck"? and "talk to the hand!"

(Though my favourite chorus was the approvingly lascivious "dip me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians".)

What is more, you really find yourself sympathising with characters like the sweet, funny Shawntal, who just wants to pole-dance, and to get away from her misogynistic, racist lunkhead husband, Chucky.

At the end, Chucky is unveiled as a KKK member and the members of his chapter come on stage and tapdance.

I am not kidding. The KKK do a full kickline show number, complete with jazz hands. And they're loathsome but it's funny at the same time and I wish I could explain why it works so well.

In the meantime, Jerry's warm-up man, an over-eager, starstruck and nasty piece of work, has been fired for inciting the audience to fight, so he takes a gun and tries to assassinate Jerry. The gentle black guy is infuriated by the Klansmen and he tries to grab the gun. It goes off and Jerry is shot in the chest.

The second half is *weird*. Weirder. Weirdest.

We disappear into Jerry's head, where he believes that the devil (played by the same guy as his warm-up man) plans to fry him and (I quote) "fuck him up the ass with barbed wire" because of his attitude unless he is willing to host a show in Hell. The "On Air" sign changes to an "On Fire" sign.

Satan is furious at being cast out of heaven and wants an apology from Jesus and God. So, because Jesus is love, he decides to come down to Hell to explain his position to Satan. And promptly loses his temper. So you have this amazing duet between Jesus and Satan, in Hell, with Jesus saying "talk to the stigmata".

I was appalled and yet I laughed. My. Arse off.

Satan calls on Adam and Eve to back his side, and they're played by the same actors as Shawntal and Chucky, which has strange and interesting resonances.

Finally, God comes down to Hell with a posse of angels, looking like Orson Welles in a white suit, to talk to Jerry and reveals that he's just tired and needs some support because it's not easy being God.

Jerry is left to beg for his life, and manages to talk his way out of the barbed wire enema, and wakes up to recover from his wound, hopefully wiser and less detached.

The show ends with everyone from the cast dressed up as Jerry Springer, tapdancing and forming kicklines, while singing lyrics such as "three-nippled cousinfucker!"

At the end, they gave out badges. I really *really* wanted to get the "three-nippled cousinfucker" one because I thought I knew someone who would appreciate it, but the granny next to me snatched it from my clammy grasp *g*

I can't tell you what a joyful experience going to see this show was. Granted my sense of humour is big on the puerile swearing in inappropriate situations (e.g. in opera) but oh dear, sweet baby hayzus, I enjoyed it so much.

* * *



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 3rd, 2003 05:54 pm (UTC)
OMG.... I can't even watch Jerry Springer 'cause it's so bad, but I hope like fuck this is still playing next time I come to your town. For we will go and we will laugh. And I don't even like opera.

So glad you're back with us on the net!
May. 4th, 2003 05:44 pm (UTC)
I know you would love it. Know it.
May. 3rd, 2003 06:43 pm (UTC)
Oh, dear
What if the answer to your South Park question is (b), but you are also mortally embarrassed by the fact that Jerry Springer used to be your mayor? Would you still like it?
May. 3rd, 2003 06:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh, dear
You would love it. Jerry does a shoutout to Cincinnatti and the whole prostitutes on the civic dime business.

Anyway the whole thing is about being mortified that you find it funny but laughing anyway *g*
May. 4th, 2003 11:59 am (UTC)
Re: Oh, dear
Another thought: Did they surcap it, even though it was clearly in English? Because I would have loved to see the surcaps.
May. 4th, 2003 06:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh, dear
They had screens that descended from the ceiling every now and then, but they didn't use them for surcaps very often.

Instead they had the disclaimers on them -- for the second half they had a disclaimer reading (something like) "Viewers are warned that this segment may contain epic themes ... viewers are warned that they may find parts of this show difficult to understand unless they have a firm grasp of Judeo-Christian themes"

They also showed adverts playing on the screen and the chorus singing what they really meant.

And thank you for mentioning it, because now I am laughing again. *g*
May. 3rd, 2003 08:59 pm (UTC)
Oh. My. God.

I can't even imagine what that must be like.

Thank you so much for the review.
May. 3rd, 2003 09:15 pm (UTC)
And, by the way, welcome back. I missed you. ::waves wildly from the other side of the planet::
May. 4th, 2003 05:46 pm (UTC)
It is fabulous. In a horrifying sort of way, but fabulous.

:::waves back:::
May. 4th, 2003 09:04 am (UTC)
Oh. My. God.
They are forever running specials between here and London for cheap flights and lodgings. Had I not just spent a lot of money on other flights for other locales (more on that soon), I would be on a plane this weekend just to see this. Holy....well....Holy Whatever. Do you anticipate this will be running all summer? thanks so much for this review. I was laughing my arse off just reading it. Sounds like the updated version of the show they design in "The Producers." When you were talking about the tapdancing KKKers, all I could think of was "Springtime for Hitler in Germany." Sounds like a great romp.
May. 4th, 2003 05:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh. My. God.
It finishes on the 5th July, and it's unlikely to play further at the National because they have other things to put on. However, if it does prove a big success it could well transfer to the West End later in the year.

The KKK kickline is sort of like "Springtime for Hitler", it's as absurdly funny.

This may be the only place you can see it because I read today that The Jerry Springer' Show's lawyers have objected to the show on the grounds of its portrayal of taste, sexuality and religious matters.

Unsurprisingly *g*
May. 4th, 2003 04:14 pm (UTC)
I am in awe. London must be the bestest place in the whole universe. THANK YOU for that review!
May. 4th, 2003 07:45 pm (UTC)
My life is Springer free by hard core choice, however, I would make an exception for this.

How much do I love the National for doing this? SO much is the answer.
May. 5th, 2003 08:53 am (UTC)
I mourn the loss of the "cousinfucker" badge. (sigh)

I desperately DESPERATELY want to see this show. THIS is what opera should be!.
May. 5th, 2003 10:35 am (UTC)
I read this review aloud to Token because I was giggling so hard it *had* to be shared.

God, do I wish I was in London. Just for a night, and with ticket to this show. And then a great deal of liquor afterwards, and thou. ::g::
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )