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Chris High reviews: Jerry Springer Opera 2006

JERRY SPRINGER - THE OPERA

Rolf Saxon, Dean Hussain, Valda Aviks, Wills Morgan, Benjamin Lake, Helen Walsh ,Johan Pearson, Carrie Ellis, Trevor Jary, Annabelle Williams, Nathan Harmer.
Music: Richard Thomas
Lyrics: Stewart Lee & Richard Thomas
Musical Director: Dan Jackson
Liverpool Empire Theatre
June 5th, 2006

Jerry Springer - The Opera 2006: promotional image

JERRY SPRINGER
THE OPERA


There could have been worse dates on which to open a show new to Liverpool – 06/06/06 for example – but Jerry Springer – The Opera made its Empire debut and held its own in the debate of rights to free speech as well as the four hundred or so protesters outside, who sang hymns and waved placards in time honoured fashion.


This, of course, is nothing new for the controversial musical that has, nonetheless, won so many awards it is difficult to fathom how it can garner such a divide of opinion. Love it or hate it, Jerry Springer – The Opera – like its TV alter-ego – is a hit and will continue to play before audiences for a good while yet.


Yes it’s literally filled with profanity. Yes it’s trashy and tacky. Yes it’s so close to the religious knuckle that the marrow aches at times. But is it really worth getting so het up about when today nations can march uninvited into nations and cause chaos and when babies are being used as bombs in the name of religious and political freedom? Let’s get some perspective here, please. It’s a stage show, nothing more and nothing less. See it, don’t see it. At the end of the day, who cares?

So, the performances and the show itself.

First up is Dean Hussain, who plays the roles of Warm Up Man and Satan with a supreme cock-sureness that it isn’t too much of a leap in the imagination to believe he might have been trained as such in both occupations.

Then came Jerry Doppleganger, Rolf Saxon. Picked out at the back of the auditorium by a beam of strong white light, Saxon makes his way to the stage through the crowd shaking hands with the audience (made up largely of the late 20’s to early 30’s bracket) and posing for pictures, mike in hand. A brave move in itself, considering a more active protestor had just been ejected.

His part, surprisingly, was not the main focus of attention however. Yes, his is the hub around which the show spins, but – in true Springer style – the real stars are “the guests” and not least of which is Shawntel, a twenty-something stone wannabe pole dancer, played by Helen Walsh.

Her voice, both in operatic harmony and in plain old fashioned straight format, is breathtaking in its clarity and strength, whereas her ability to go from doe-eyed misunderstood to brawling vixen in the blink of an eye is as near perfect as you could wish for.

There are other very fine singing performances too, from all quarters, but most notable are those turned in by Valda Aviks and Wills Morgan. Aviks plays three roles; Crack-head pensioner / Dwight lover Zandra, irate mother Irene and a less than sympathetic Mary, all with an operatic style slant lending a paradox to lyrics that drip with the profanity of the gutter.

Morgan, who plays both a man who wants to be treated like a baby and fill his nappy for sexual pleasure, as well as Jesus, is both so full of talent and perfect timing, it is difficult not to be impressed by all that he does.

Highlight of the show? Without doubt the part played by a dozen or so Ku Klux Klan members, complete with hoods, smocks and burning crosses, who enjoy their Jerry Springer moment to the max. It’s been a long time since something this irreverent has been this funny and is worth the entrance fee alone, even though its format has been done before. Seen The Producers? Then you’ve seen Springtime For Hitler and, in another guise, have seen this too, though it doesn’t matter.

The first half – set in the studio of Springer-land – flies past and is interspersed with adverts that flash up on the continuously busy screens behind, with slogans sung by the cast that bring the house down.

The second half, during which Jerry descends into hell and has Adam, Eve, Jesus, Mary and even God as guests, is somewhat darker and tends to drag a little in places. It is very easy to see how this section would offend, but again its nothing that hasn’t been done before a million times. Not that this makes it right, but it doesn’t necessarily make it wrong either. Freedom of choice, in this democratic world of ours, has two sides and both have to be heard.

Jerry Springer – The Opera is not a masterpiece. It doesn’t have tunes that you’re going to come out humming or tapping your feet to. It doesn’t have that many side-splitting “jokes” either and many of them are in the detail. What it does have in spades is originality, fast lines and a daring, squirm-inducing pace that races the heart in a similar manner to that of The Office.

The easily offended should not go, but then they should know that already unless they’ve been camped out on Mars since 2003. If they do venture in to see what the fuss is about, it is doubtful that they will be half as upset as they thought they might be. All of which says far more for the writers and cast of this highly entertaining piece of theatre, than I ever could.
8/10

www.jerryspringertheopera.com

 

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