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.