Having missed the 2-night only concert version of Jerry Springer: The Opera at Carnegie Hall (lauded by Brantley today), I might as well finally share some notes and reflections on the show as I saw it at Chicago's Bailiwick Rep last summer--which was actually the US premiere, if you can believe it. Perhaps because it's essentially a non-Equity company, the creators felt comfortable giving them the rights while reserving "professional" rights for NYC.
In any case, count me a fan of this show. And here's why:
It took a nonequity company way “off-Loop” on the north side of
Well we’ve been robbed. “Springer” is certainly the most entertaining and even the cleverest and most insightful piece of popular theatre I’ve seen all year. As well as the most accessible piece of elitist theatre. Either way, there is nothing “guilty” about its pleasures.
Let’s start with the “opera” part. (And in
To give you a further idea, the show might as well be called something like “The Passion of the Jerry” since—as a mock-oratorio—its biggest joke is not trailer-trash confrontations but out and out theology. The running chorus of “Jerry Eleison”—as in Krie Eleison, of course—being the tip-off. (And yes, that translates as “Jerry Have Mercy.” Love it.) Putting Dante in reverse, Jerry starts out in heaven (i.e. TV star of his own show) and descends into hell. Arriving below, he is summoned to host the ultimate standoff: Jesus vs. Satan. (In this and many ways, the show is a super-literate
Again, the thrill of “Springer” (and for some its turn-ff) is the constant juxtaposition of such musical and theological vocabulary against songs like, “Mommy give me smack on the asshole!” (Sung about a Springer guest’s spank-fetish.) Or watching a grown man in a diaper relish in his fecophiliac sexual fantasies. But of course, this is the material of the real “Jerry Springer” itself. My favorite such number is “I Just Want to Fucking Dance” sung by a zaftig housewife, whose husband derides her for being too fat to strip. When she bursts into this triumphant anthem (a delicious parody and celebration of the classic musical’s “I Want” song) it does so many wonderful things. It satirizes musicals as well as trash tv, as well as strip clubs—all prominent elements in our current popular entertainment. And it also frankly and quite unironically elevates the dream of the common man/woman for self-expression. Replete with Gilbert & Sullivan choral cadences (“SHE just wants to fucking dance….”) it’s a rousing and, when sung well, even moving(!) song.
So far from some elitist sneer at pop culture, “Springer the Opera” is ultimately a truly democratic piece. If anything it’s the exploitation of common people (by Jerry, by his handlers) that is put on trial. For the guests, they only long for their “Jerry Springer Moment”—a phrase introduced in a lovely lilting melody almost out of a Jerome Kern Princess-Musical. (“This is/ my Jerry Springer moment/….) Such brilliant pastiche, of course, is another delight of the show for the musically inclined.
I must say I don’t really consider this a “musical” since it does not work within any established form of the American Musical. It’s too fantastical and jaded for Rodgers and Hammerstein, too thematically cohesive for a “revue.” Musically it’s more classically grounded than Broadway, though there are some soul, country, and R&B numbers.
If I had to classify it I’d call it an extended operatic--or operetta--parody.
Now what could be controversial about a such a fun heathenish show? Interesting that Brantley references protesters even outside this Carnegie Hall concert version. The show started getting picketed in the
Yes, a show that has a chorus greet the arrival of the Virgin Mary on the Jerry Springer show with the cry “Raped By An Angel!” (as in the “titles” that typically appear below victim-guests’ names) is going to piss some people off. But I doubt there is a popular theatre piece more deeply versed in the scriptures and belief than “Jerry Springer The Opera.” As always with these phony-controversies, the artwork in question is far more articulate and knowledgeable about religion than the so-called pious protesters.
Correction: Stupid Me, I forgot when writing so much about how "operatic" this is, that it's actually called "Jerry Springer The Opera!" not "The Musical." Apologies. So this post has now been emended.