Outrageous stories, despicable characters and lots of fighting- that’s why “The Jerry Springer Show” is famous and so popular. But they’re on Network television so the infamous bad language, gestures and some of the juicier moments are bleeped or deleted. Now that New Line Theatre has brought “Jerry Springer- The Opera” to their stage, we get all of the above. Hearing the coarse language sung in arias is surreal. Seeing the dregs of society displayed in all of their worst behavior is a bit off-putting at times. But the incredible talent of Scott Miller, his cast and crew make it more palatable than…say, “Sound Of Music” for the eighty-third time on a St. Louis stage.
Yes, you’re not likely to see this show again (although I hear the Muny is considering it for next summer) and I’m not sure I really want to see it again. For those who aren’t squeamish about such depravity- especially set to music- it’s a joy ride that keeps you laughing and gasping throughout the three acts compressed into two. There’s even a moral or two of sorts.
The versatile Keith Thompson leads the way as the non-singing Jerry Springer. A shame, since he’s got a great singing voice. His portrayal of this enigmatic former mayor of Cincinnati turned talk show host surrounded by sleaze is nothing short of magnificent. He captures the spirit and essence of Mr. Springer while almost wondering what all the fuss is about. The first act is a presentation of a typical television show complete with an audience that is coached on how to behave but never let that get in the way of their fun. So, a weary Matt Hill tries to control the crowd as Springer’s security guy, Steve Wilkos. His unruly audience is made up of Kimi Short (who also portrays Jerry’s Inner Valkyrie- who he ignores), Reynaldo Arceno, Tyler Cheatem, Joel Hackbarth, Ann Hier, Sarah Porter, Michelle Sauer and Christopher Strawhun. They make a lively bunch and handle some great harmony throughout the evening.
Matt Pentecost is Jerry’s Warm Up Man and then takes on the role of Satan in the overly-long second act which takes Jerry to Purgatory and then to Hell to host a very special edition of “The Jerry Springer Show.” His job as the devil is perfectly evil and slithery. The guests on the actual show include Zachary Allen Farmer as a penitent boyfriend who confesses to cheating on his girlfriend. He’s deliciously scummy but then, when we get to Hell, he comes on like “The Dude” as he plays God to break up the fight between the Devil and Jesus.
Taylor Pietz is his girlfriend, Peaches, in the opening segment and then becomes a wonderful singing and dancing Baby Jane who makes an appearance here and then really belts it out once she arrives in Hell. She’s been with New Line a long time and, even though she’s broken out into many other roles in plays and musicals around town, she owns any New Line show in which she appears. As the lady who Zak is cheating with, Lindsey Jones gives a tremendous performance as the drug-addicted slut and then takes on a few other personas throughout the show. Finally, he confesses to having another affair- this time with transgender Tremont who is given an exuberant performance by the wonderful Luke Steingruby.
Then Marshall Jennings takes the stage to shock his girlfriend, played by Christina Rios, by revealing that he wants to be a baby- mainly for the purpose of pooping in his pants- which he proudly demonstrates on stage. Rios is a breath of fresh air (hopefully to quell the smell of the diaper solo) as she shockingly and tenderly displays a gorgeous operatic voice, particularly with her solo, “I Wanna Sing Something Beautiful.” Mr. Jennings then appears in the Hell section as Jesus as he goes toe-to-toe with Satan. Another superb, if somewhat disgusting performance at times from Marshall Jennings.
The last couple in the real “Jerry Springer Show” segment are Ryan Foizey as the Neanderthal boyfriend of Anna Skidis who just wants to be a pole dancer. Another solid singing performance from Ms. Skidis in her turn on the pole in “I Just Wanna Dance.” Then these two talented New Line regulars turn into Adam and Eve for the second act “Jerry Springer In Hell” sequence. And if you haven’t been offended enough, there’s an appearance by tap-dancing Klu Klux Klan members at the end of Act I.
The plot device that sends Jerry to Purgatory and then to Hell is resolved at the end of the show and, as I said, you even get a little moral with such platitudes as “there is no right and there is no wrong” and the realization that “love will conquer all,” in so many words. This doesn’t really reprieve the unpleasantness of the opera with music by Richard Thomas and book and lyrics by Thomas and Stewart Lee, but it makes for an unusual journey that you won’t get with most musicals.
Scott Miller’s upbeat direction carries the story through what seems like an overly long second act and New Line’s band under the direction of Jeffrey Richard Carter is flawless in what can be a tricky score sung mostly by those more inclined toward actual musical comedy numbers. Rob Lippert has faithfully represented the Jerry Springer set and his lighting effects are astounding as are the sound enhancements by Benjamin Rosemann. Sarah Porter pulls double duty as costume designer and does a marvelous job outfitting our host impeccably and adding great touches with the guests, audience members, nurses and others throughout the evening.
You have been warned. Not only by New Line Theatre who has widely publicized this as a show for adults only, but by myself and other critics who have called this one of the most vile productions ever from a language and situation standpoint. But, then again, those in for a raucous good time, enjoy “Jerry Springer-The Opera” for what it is- filth and degradation with a lot of laughs and a really good time. It plays through March 28th with a more conventional opera, “The Threepenny Opera,” coming the end of May. Contact them at newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111 for tickets.
And don’t forget- the Third Annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards Ceremony will be held Monday, March 23rd at the Center for Creative Arts (COCA) in University City. Tickets are $15.00 and are available at COCA’s website (www.cocastl.org) or by calling 314-725-6555. The ceremony will again be broadcast live on HEC-TV and streamed live on the HEC-TV website.