Divinely Profane

I Loved Jerry Springer: The Opera

Divinely Profane

Given the 40,000 protest e-mails Balagan Theatre says it received from angry Christians before opening night, you won't be shocked to learn Jerry Springer: The Opera is as obscene and profane as billed. Klansmen tap-dance, talk-show guests smear themselves with feces, and Satan tells a diapered Jesus to fuck off—that's all consistent with the lowbrow spirit of the TV show the opera apes. But in addition to being foul, this coproduction with Seattle Theatre Group is both consistently funny and vocally gorgeous—and that may come as a bit of a revelation.

There's not much of a plot per se—the first act is basically an episode of The Jerry Springer Show set to music, in which Jerry (Brandon Felker) is killed; the second act is a Jerry Springer Show episode set in hell (with Satan played by Sean Nelson). But what makes this show work is the single precarious premise that juxtaposes a classically operatic score against a blasphemous and intentionally offensive libretto:

I'm tired of your little dick flesh,
It's so small, I'd get more pleasure
From fucking myself with my own clitoris!

The conceit would grow old fast (if it worked at all) were it not for the ability of the performers to sing this profane libretto so operatically. Credit director Shawn Belyea for casting a couple of actual opera singers—Jennifer Bromagen and Megan Chenovick in multiple roles—along with the most uniformly talented cast of vocal performers I've heard on a Seattle stage outside of a Broadway touring company.

I've never heard the Moore Theatre sound this good. Both the solo and ensemble performances are outstanding, and whatever acoustical problems plagued prior Balagan/STG collaborations (their recent production of Carrie was often nightmarish, and not in a good way) have been fixed by sound designer Brent Warwick and the rest of the creative team.

There are simply too many outstanding performances among the 25-member cast to call out by name, and the ensemble numbers are just as notable as any solo. Perhaps music director Nathan Young deserves the praise for helping to make Jerry Springer: The Opera a much richer and more entertaining theatrical experience than the subject matter promises. recommended


Comments (18) RSS

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Are you out of your fucking mind? This was a complete waste of time. It's a three-minute skit extended to two-and-a-half punishing hours.

People were streaming for the exits. The place was half empty after intermission.

Yes, the voices were great, but they were being forced to perform a terrible script. You're way off on this one.

This was a truly terrible choice for Balagan and an awful waste of everyone's time. Shocked by your review.

And of course they mention the 40K protest letters. Assuming they really exist, it's the only way to get anyone to attend this tired premise. That's pure marketing.

Oh, do religious people hate it? Then sign me up!

It's a scam. Terrible show.

Also, the actor playing Jerry sucks. It's just a mess. I felt really sorry for the cast.
Posted by Sevenwithoneblow on January 15, 2014 at 11:26 AM · Report this
danewood 2
Posted by danewood on January 15, 2014 at 12:25 PM · Report this
Goldy 3
@1 You're welcome to your opinion; I don't think this show is for everyone. But the theater did not appear noticeably emptier after intermission than before.
Posted by Goldy on January 15, 2014 at 12:47 PM · Report this
@2 - Go see it. You're the kind of person who should go see it. It's perfect for you.

@3 - You sure are nice! What an even-handed response.

Posted by Sevenwithoneblow on January 15, 2014 at 3:13 PM · Report this
David Schmader 5
The two other reviews of the show I've found also love it, for what that's worth.
Posted by David Schmader on January 15, 2014 at 4:32 PM · Report this
Whoa, whoa, WHOA! C'mon now. Sucks AS Jerry, man.
Posted by Bfelk on January 15, 2014 at 5:45 PM · Report this
@5 - I've seen them too now. Also surprising, and also with the same attitude of, "some of you are offended by the word 'fuck' and some of you aren't. If you hate bad words and love Jesus, this isn't the show for you."

Maybe it's an excuse for the reviewers to feel "edgy?"

I love bad words, and I think Jesus sucks, and this show was garbage. There's a total difference between actual, artful satire and three hours of poo poo pee pee. South Park it aint. Book of Mormon, it's not.

Yes, it's funny to hear a group of people sing "cunt" like they're in Carmen... for a few minutes. It's like those William Shatner albums. It's cool to hear a song or two, but does anyone REALLY just listen to three in a row all the way through?

One-note joke, wayyyyy stretched out with LOTS of flat homophobic jokes. Trust me. Sucks.
Posted by Sevenwithoneblow on January 15, 2014 at 5:47 PM · Report this
@6 - Sucks as Jerry. I'm sure he's a nice guy with a cool collection of vintage banjos and a cute dog in real life. He was just miscast and saddled with a bad script.

Every time he's asked to do a one-liner between the singing parts, it falls dead.

There's this massive build-up to his curtain call, and what was up with that curtain call? I guess they have one curtain call for the cast members that can't dance and then a second for the ones that can, and then after an eternity with a medley of the show's "hits," Jerry comes out like we've been waiting for him.

We haven't. Unearned moment.

And the mics are taped to everyone's head like it's Ash Wednesday. Just... don't see it.

Posted by Sevenwithoneblow on January 15, 2014 at 5:53 PM · Report this
Yeah, I think that curtain call is way too big too, but I think it's more about celebrating Jerry than celebrating the actor, who by the way, is me. And if you didn't buy into his 'change' then I can imagine that curtain call must be infuriating. Also the British recording is more traditional in terms of the one-liners. There's more emphasis on the joke and less emphasis on the discomfort of being confronted with your actual demons. So that may be more your cup of tea. Anyway, thanks for coming, and I'm truly sorry you had such a dreadful time.
Posted by Bfelk on January 15, 2014 at 6:01 PM · Report this
Saw the original cast in London, so skipping it here.

That said, everybody who writes this show off as a one-trick wonder is confusing the words for the message. The score is rich and rewards multiple listens, and a failure to make the emotional connection lies with either bad direction, bad cast, or bad understanding - which is often the result of the first of those...
Posted by theatresnob on January 15, 2014 at 10:59 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 11
I saw the production that aired on BBC in 2003 or 2004, and the first half was genius. Maybe a certain troll doesn't remember Jerry Springer in its heyday when it had a script as weird and profane as the opera. But, I remember it being quite good, and dead on in its skewering of talk shows.

Said troll also reminds me of the couple walking out of Asses of Fire proclaiming "What garbage!"
Posted by TheMisanthrope on January 16, 2014 at 10:43 AM · Report this
@9 - cool of you to comment. I hope you find better luck in your next production.

@10 - not sure "cuntcuntcunt" will reveal layers of depth and meaning in future listens, but if it comes on NPR, I won't switch it off.

@11 - I guess I should listen to the guy who saw half of it 10 years ago and not trust my own experience at the actual production being reviewed here. Thanks!
What's the definition of troll again?
Posted by Sevenwithoneblow on January 16, 2014 at 12:10 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 13
It's not that shocking. South Park has done similar material and it was funnier, more shocking and better written.

Also: the male cast is not up to the singing. The women are great, though. And, the chorus is fantastic.

Sean Nelson needs to stick to rock.
Posted by michael strangeways on January 16, 2014 at 5:46 PM · Report this
Jerry Springer - The Opera was originally the brain child of Richard Thomas, with words and direction from English stand up comedian Stewart Lee. A hit at National Theatre of London, it was killed by the right wing in England when it was shown on BBC.

Whatever your opinion of this opera, if you are a fan of smart funny and political stand up, check out Stewart Lee on YouTube.
Posted by Dave Charles on January 18, 2014 at 8:44 AM · Report this
@14 - Religious conservatives tried to damage the show when it went on tour, but hardly "killed it"...…

Having seen the National Theatre version in 2003 myself, both South Park and Book of Mormon are better in my opinion, because, while the latter two can be equally crude and rude beyond the willingness of some people to watch, there is a level of acceptance of humanity as it is, warts and all, in both that exists in a much diminished form in the first. (That said, figuring out how to balance laughs versus shock versus insight is something very few people do well, let alone attempt.)

And yes, Stewart Lee's standup is pretty good, but it does require patience to appreciate.
Posted by palamedes on January 18, 2014 at 10:42 AM · Report this
@15, ok, overstated point well taken,
but it certainly killed it for Stewart Lee, who explains why in some detail in a interview with Marc Maron on WTF podcast.

Posted by Dave Charles on January 18, 2014 at 5:21 PM · Report this
I loved it too. One of the best productions over all I've seen in Seattle in a while. The actors/actresses were great, not too corny like a lot of musicals, but certainly not taking themselves seriously. I was blown away by the singing, lots of talented vocalists. And the score was beautifully creepy, even if the lyrics were nothing but fuck and shit. Bravo, Bravo!!
It's not Book or Mormon, who the fuck said it was supposed to be? I wish I still had the play bill, but the first blurb in it said that this show didn't really hit off in the USA, maybe because it's too confrontational of what our culture is, or maybe just because it's mundane for us - kind of like stuff we see everyday.
Posted by nurse-nancy-boy on January 18, 2014 at 11:03 PM · Report this
@17 I share your experience. I found the show hilarious and perfectly captured the late 80s-early 90s Jerry Springer and all his copycats. The idea that anyone would be offended by this show is comical. Killing half a million civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan? The affronted never seem bent outta shape by that kinda stuff.
Posted by dex3703 on January 20, 2014 at 5:32 PM · Report this

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