Off-Broadway Review: “Jerry Springer – The Opera”

David Roberts

  • Chief New York Theatre Critic
  • Outer Critics Circle

When one thinks of the Jerry Springer Show (past and present), one might not think of ‘opera.’ However, in 2000, the seeds of that exact concept were planted by Richard Thomas at London’s Battersea Arts Centre with his “Tourette's Diva” and in 2001 with his “How to Write an Opera About Jerry Springer” at the same venue. The success of those productions, and teaming up with Stewart Lee, culminated in “Jerry Springer – The Opera” which has found its way to the New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre.

Does the name-calling, bickering, and often offensive banter of the television series work as an onstage opera in four acts? The short answer is ‘yes.’ Jerry Springer has often described his television as “silly.” Silliness abounds in “Jerry Springer – The Opera” supported by the more sophisticated “bones” of the operatic genre. And the combination is delightful, particularly given the none-too-subtle themes of confession, forgiveness, and redemption. The success of “Jerry Springer – The Opera” springs from the treatment of the original television series as an extended metaphor, an allegory in fact, that exposes the redemptive quality of “getting it all out there” (confession), having an audience offer some sort of “acceptance” (confession), and somehow “moving on with one’s life” (redemption). All this theological discourse with a bit of purgatory and hell thrown in seems to satisfy.

This is a sung-through musical (except for Jerry’s (Terrence Mann at the performance reviewed here) spoken narrative and the Warm-Up Man’s (Will Swenson) brief narratives. Under John Rando’s direction, the action moves forward quickly, and the members of ensemble cast uniformly deliver engaging performances. Their voices blend easily with the operatic style and their arias, recitatives, and chorus numbers are compelling – even when the lyrics are less than “polite” or “genteel.” Just ponder the titles of these two numbers in Act I: “Diaper Man” and “This Is My KKK Moment.”

  Photo: Terrence Mann and Will Swenson. Credit: Monique Carboni.

Photo: Terrence Mann and Will Swenson. Credit: Monique Carboni.

There is no reason to rehearse the story line (the book) of the opera. “Jerry Springer – The Opera” is entertaining and has a pleasing message. Despite the “language” and a few questionable “choices,” what could be wrong with a musical that ultimately encourages the audience members to “Take care of yourselves and each other” and features a “dying Jerry” exhorting his “followers” with this: “I’ve learned that there are no absolutes of good and evil, and that we all live in a glorious state of change.” And how can one disagree with Jerry’s belief that “for better or for worse, history defines us by what we do or what we choose not to do. Hopefully what will survive of us is love. Love.” You only have until April 1 to decide.

 

JERRY SPRINGER – THE OPERA

“Jerry Springer – The Opera” features Jennifer Allen, Florrie Bagel, Brandon Contreras, Sean Patrick Doyle, Brad Greer, Luke Grooms, Nathaniel Hackmann, Billy Hepfinger, Justin Keyes, Beth Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth Loyacano, Terrence Mann, Tiffany Mann, Jill Paice, Kim Steele, Will Swenson, and Nichole Turner.  Beginning March 13, Matt McGrath joins the company in the role of Jerry Springer.

This production also features Michael Brennan (Music Direction / Keyboard), Rick Bertone (Keyboard), Harry Hassell (Woodwinds) and Adam Wolfe (Drums); Orchestrations by Greg Anthony Rassen; Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Sarah Lauwx; Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter; Sound Design by Joshua D. Reid; Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky and Fight Direction by Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum. Casting is by Telsey + Company, Cesar A. Rocha, CSA.  Production Stage Manager is James Harker. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

Tickets for “Jerry Springer – The Opera,” now through April 1, are on sale now.  General playing schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday matinees at 2:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 2:00 p.m.  Regular tickets start at $95.00.  For single ticket purchases, please visit www.thenewgroup.org.  Single tickets can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00-8:00 p.m. daily). Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.