Jerry Springer: The Opera is the most profane, lurid piece of musical theatre you will see in your life, and may possibly be the most entertaining one as well. Written by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas, the British musical is every bit as vulgar and lewd as the trashy TV talk show that served as its inspiration. The show has been the subject of numerous complaints and controversy in recent years, with its broadcast on BBC Two eliciting more than 55,000 complaints. And why not? It is certainly not for the faint hearted. Four letter words are the subject of most of the songs, kinky sexuality is the norm, and even Jesus isnt spared.
Toronto Star columnist Richard Ouzounian puts down his critics pen to direct the musical which opens on one of the highest notes youll ever see or hear on stage.
The first half is devoted to a reenactment of the real TV talk show. Brandon Kleiman has created a set that doesnt disappoint, transforming the Hart House Theatre into a real Jerry Springer show set equipped with a band, seating for the audience (the chorus) and a TV cookie for Springers guests.
Springer (Byron Rouse) is fantastic — the only non-singing act in the show, his quick delivery and impeccable comic timing makes his performance outrageously believable. The show gives us an inner insight into what it must mean to be Jerry, and how he may occasionally be visited by his conscience in the form of a personal Valkyrie (Sarah Palkin). He also delivers some of the most memorable lines in the show: Its easy to occupy the moral high ground.
What’s more difficult is to occupy the moral low ground. Springers guests in the first act include a man cheating on his fiancée with her best friend and a transvestite, a man with a baby fetish cheating on his wife with a woman who calls herself Baby Jane, and a pole dancer married to a redneck who turns out to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK also has an uproarious appearance, with a tap dancing number that brought the house down. Act II takes place in Hell, where Jerrys Warm Up Man from the first act, played by JP Bevilacqua, turns into Satan and forces Jerry into doing a special show in Hell. Bevilacqua easily delivers the best performance of the night, which is hard to do considering that every single cast member performed as if they were born into their roles.
The charred, broken down version of the Jerry Springer set in Hell is inspired, with cracks in the walls and red glitter flashing from every corner. During Jerrys show in Hell, Satan confronts a gay Jesus (Benjamin Mehl) who is later accosted by the surprise guest, his mother Mary (Brandon Hewitt) and Adam and Eve (Scott Gorman and Linda Gallant), who berate him because it was only one measly little apple . Even God (Greg Finney) gets in on the act, arriving like a celebrity on the shoulders of his angels, asking Jerry to come to Heaven to help him judge humanity.
Eventually, an all out brawl ensues, which Jerry breaks up of course, delivering a neat little speech about the nature of good and evil and ying and yang. Baby Jane tells Jerry he must return to Earth and Jerry wakes up in his studio, having been shot, and dies in his security guys arms.
The show is physically challenging both for the cast and audience, and the cast and crew involved do a fine job keeping their energy up. The show is near two hours long, but the length does not tell at all because the audience is gripped throughout.
Director Ouzounian, and choreographers Shannon Cote and Sarah Harris do an outstanding job — every single cast member performs like a professional dancer and looks — thanks to Ming Wong — like a star. Lily Ling has extracted gorgeous sound from a full band complete with brass instruments and woodwinds, and she herself puts on a fine performance as conductor. The only thing that seems to detract from the show are the sometimes long winded numbers, which seem to be less for entertainment and more to show off the singing prowess of the cast. However, since the vocals are brilliant — coached by Greg Rainville — the audience really doesnt mind.
Overall, Jerry Springer: The Opera may not be to everyones tastes, but even those who will object to its profanity and irreverence will have to give a standing ovation Ouzounians production and his casts performances. If you want something over the top which will give your eardrums a good exercise, Jerry Springer: The Opera is on at Hart