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Jerry Springer: The Opera is a British musical written by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas, based on the television show The Jerry Springer Show. The musical is notable for its profanity, its irreverent treatment of Judeo-Christian themes, and surreal images such as a troupe of tap-dancing Ku Klux Klan members. The musical is completely sung through, with the exceptions of title character, Jerry, who speaks, and a brief speech by the character Steve.

The musical ran for 609 performances in London from April 2003 to February 2005 before touring the UK in 2006. The production won four Laurence Olivier Awards including Best New Musical. The musical received a number of American regional theatre productions and made its New York City debut on January 29 and January 30, 2008 at Carnegie Hall. Harvey Keitel starred as Jerry Springer.

Jerry Springer: The Opera was the subject of controversy beginning in January 2005, when its UK television broadcast on BBC Two elicited 55,000 complaints.[1] The organisation Christian Voice led street protests against the screening at nine BBC offices[2] and announced their intention to bring blasphemy charges, due to the depictions of the Judeo-Christian characters in Act II. The Christian Institute attempted to bring a private prosecution against the BBC,[3] but the Magistrates Court refused to issue a summons, a decision which was later upheld by the High Court of Justice.[4] Protests continued at tour venues in 2006 and on the internet.

Contents

Principal roles

  • Jerry — The infamous talk show host.
  • Jonathan Weiruss/Satan — Weiruss is the warm-up guy whom Jerry fires for incompetence.
  • Steve Wilkos — Head of Security at the Jerry Springer Show.
  • Dwight/God — Dwight is cheating on his fiancee with two other people.
  • Peaches/Baby Jane — Peaches is Dwight's fiancee. Baby Jane is an adult baby.
  • Tremont/Angel Gabriel — A male to female pre-op transsexual, having an affair with Dwight.
  • Zandra/Irene/Mary — Zandra is Peaches' best friend, and having an affair with Dwight. Irene is Shawntel’s ashamed mother.
  • Montel/Jesus — Montel enjoys dressing as a baby and fouling in his own underwear.
  • Andrea/Archangel Michael — Andrea is Montel’s lover.
  • Chucky/Adam — Shawntel's redneck husband, who does not approve of her career desires.
  • Shawntel/Eve — Shawntel dreams of becoming an exotic dancer, but her husband disapproves.

Synopsis

Act I

Jerry Springer's frenzied audience greets Jerry as he arrives at his notorious TV talk show. His first guest, Dwight, is cheating on Peaches with Zandra. The three fight, and Jerry's security men break up the battle. Jerry is briefly admonished by his inner Valkyrie. Dwight is also cheating with a transexual, Tremont. After a commercial break, Jerry's second guest, Montel, tells his partner, Andrea, that he likes to dress as a baby and that he is cheating on her with Baby Jane, a woman who dresses as a little girl. Jerry's Warm-Up Man contributes to Andrea's humiliation and is fired. Jerry again wrestles with his inner Valkyrie. Jerry's final guests are Shawntel and her husband Chucky. She wants to be a stripper and demonstrates a dance before her mother, Irene, arrives. Irene attacks Shawntel. Chucky pleads innocence, but Jerry's secret JerryCam camera footage shows that Chucky is a patron of strip clubs and a Ku Klux Klan member. The Klan comes up on stage, and the Warm Up Man gives Montel a gun. The Warm-Up Man jostles Montel, who accidentally shoots Jerry.

Act II

Jerry is found injured in a wheelchair, accompanied by his security man, Steve. The scene is Purgatory, a fog enshrouded wilderness. Jerry meets ghostly versions of his talk show guests, who have all suffered unpleasant fates. Jerry tries to justify his actions to the ghosts. The Warm-Up Man arrives and is revealed to be Satan. Baby Jane asks Satan to spare Jerry's soul. Satan forces Jerry to return to Hell with him to do a special show.

Act III

Jerry arrives in Hell at a charred version of his Earthly TV studio. The audience is locked into cracks in its walls. Jerry reads cue cards produced by Baby Jane that introduce Satan, who is in charge of the proceedings. Satan seeks apology for his expulsion from Heaven and wants to reunite Heaven and Hell. Jerry must faithfully read the cue cards, by introducing Jesus, the next guest, who resembles Montel. Jesus and Satan trade accusations. Adam and Eve are next; they are reminiscent of Chucky and Shawntel. They argue with Jesus, and Eve eventually attacks him. Mary, mother of Jesus, who resembles Irene, condemns Jesus. Everyone turns against Jerry, who hopes for a miracle.

God and the angels arrive and ask Jerry come to Heaven and help God judge humanity. He accepts the offer, but the angels and devils fight over Jerry, and the talk-show host finds himself suspended over a pit of flame. Jerry launches into a series of glib homilies asking for his life, but finally gives up and makes an honest statement that resounds with his audience. Devils, angels and everyone sing a hymn of praise to life.

Back on solid ground, Baby Jane tells Jerry that he must go back to Earth. Jerry wakes up in his television studio, having been shot, his life ebbing away as he is cradled in Steve's arms. Jerry gives a final speech, and everyone is joined in sorrow.

Musical numbers

Act I
  1. Overtly-ture
  2. Audience Very Plainsong
  3. Ladies & Gentlemen
  4. Have Yourselves A Good Time
  5. Bigger Than Oprah Winfrey
  6. Foursome Guests
  7. I've Been Seeing Someone Else
  8. Chick With A Dick
  9. Talk To The Hand
  10. Adverts 1
  11. Intro To Diaper Man
  12. Diaper Man
  13. Montel Cums Dirty
  14. This Is My Jerry Springer Moment
  15. Mama Gimmee Smack On The Asshole
  16. I Wanna Sing Something Beautiful
  17. Adverts II
  18. First Time I Saw Jerry
  19. Backstage Scene
  20. Poledancer
  21. I Just Wanna Dance
  22. It Has No Name
  23. Some Are Descended From Angels
  24. Jerrycam
  25. Klan Entrance/End Of Act One
Act II
  1. Gloomy Nurses
  2. Purgatory Dawning
  3. Eat Excrete
  4. Haunting
  5. Him Am The Devil
  6. Every Last Mother Fucker Should Go Down
  7. Grilled & Roasted
  8. Transition Music
Act III
  1. Once In Happy Realms Of Light
  2. Fuck You Talk
  3. Satan & Jesus Spat
  4. Adam & Eve & Mary
  5. Where Were You?
  6. Behold God
  7. Marriage Of Heaven & Hell
  8. This Is My Cheesey
  9. Jerry It Is Finished
  10. Jerry Eleison
  11. Please Don't Die
  12. Take Care
  13. Martin's Richard-Esque Finale De Grand Fromage
  14. Play Out

History

Battersea Arts Centre and the Edinburgh Festival

Richard Thomas's one act opera, Tourette's Diva, was performed at London's Battersea Arts Centre in May 2000 and featured two members of a dysfunctional family singing obscenities to each other. This led Thomas to create his one-man show How to Write an Opera About Jerry Springer, which was performed at the Centre in February 2001.

In May 2001, Thomas returned to the Battersea Arts Centre with his show How to Write an Opera About Jerry Springer, accompanied by four singers in a tiny studio theatre. It attracted positive press and investment. Stewart Lee teamed up with Thomas, and the two began to write Jerry Springer: The Opera. The show received its first performance, while still under development, at the Centre in August 2001, with a cast of twelve. It ran for a week, selling out. When the show returned to the Centre in February 2002, the three-week run sold out in advance.

The show was then performed in concert at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2002, selling out. Jerry Springer came to see the show and endorsed it, stating, "I wish I'd thought of it myself."[5] The Edinburgh run included the introduction of character of Tremont — an amalgamation of two previous characters. Australian born Actor Andrew Bevis created the new role.

Following the Festival run, Nicholas Hytner offered to include the show in his opening season as director of the National Theatre in London.

National Theatre and Cambridge Theatre

The first fully-staged production of the musical was performed at the National Theatre on April 29, 2003, with a cast of 33, including Bevis as Tremont and Michael Brandon as Jerry. It played to packed audiences and received favourable reviews. The show had its final performance at the National Theatre on September 30, before moving to the West End.

Jerry Springer – The Opera at the Cambridge Theatre in London

On November 10, 2003, the show opened at the Cambridge Theatre, with the same cast as the National Theatre production, and ran there until February 19, 2005, before starting a tour of the United Kingdom. The West End run was sponsored by British Sky Broadcasting. On July 12, 2004, David Soul took over the role of Jerry from Michael Brandon.

In 2004, a Broadway production was announced and cancelled.[6][7]

2006 UK Tour

In September 2005, seven months after the show closed in London's West End, it was announced that the show would tour 21 regional theatres around the United Kingdom. Nine theatres originally scheduled to host the show pulled out after Christian Voice threatened to picket them. In addition, Arts Council England turned down a bid for funding, stating that the decision was based on the show's commercial pedigree rather than "pressure from extremist groups".[8]

The tour ran for 22 weeks, starting at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth on 27 January 2006. Immediately prior to the show's opening in Plymouth, it was reported that members of the far-right British National Party were part in a local campaign against the performances,[9] although Christian Voice claimed to disapprove of their involvement. According to Ticketmaster UK, ticket sales were good throughout the tour, and reviews were positive.

The cast for the tour included several cast members from the London cast, and American actor Rolf Saxon replaced David Soul as Jerry Springer. The tour had a scaled down set and scaled down effects as well as a smaller on-stage "audience".

Protests and controversy

In addition to the Christian protests at the BBC facilities, several venues throughout the 2006 tour saw protests. The Manchester Evening News reviewer saw the protests as misplaced, writing "an audacious and scandalous, yet ultimately moral and challenging show that's recommended to anyone who can accept the odd dose of outrage in their lives."[10] Another reviewer recommended, "don’t get your knickers in such a twist, drop ‘em and enjoy yourself."[11]

  • In Plymouth, at the preview night at the Theatre Royal, a group of about 40 Christian Voice supporters turned out to sing hymns and hand out leaflets to the audience as they entered the theatre.
  • In Birmingham, performances attracted a few protesters, and more commotion was made by audience members arguing when being presented with leaflets.
  • In York, leaflets were handed out by small numbers of Salvation Army and Christian Voice protesters.
  • In Manchester, 10 protestors appeared on the opening night, but these were outnumbered by an anti-protest of people holding up signs for freedom of speech. Subsequent nights saw a single regular protestor, or none.
  • In Oxford, several elderly Christian protesters turned out.
  • In Cambridge, a handful of protesters handed out leaflets on opening night. Protestors were particularly present on Good Friday, the events of which are referenced in Act III of the show.
  • In Edinburgh, one man from Christian Voice handed out leaflets on a few of the nights.
  • In Glasgow, a group of Christian protestors stood outside the theater waving placards, singing Hymns, handing out leaflets and taking photographs of patrons.
  • In Bristol, about 100 protesters appeared on opening night, particularly mothers with young children. Many came from the Carmel Evangelical Church in Brislington. Their leaflets stated that the Bristol Old Vic had edited a "classic production" to avoid offending Muslims but did not specify which production. All the protesters had left by the interval.
  • In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, over 300 protestors appeared on opening night.
  • In Brighton, two protestors arrived at several of the performances. After the Saturday matinee, Christian Voice protestors appeared.
  • In Liverpool, a group of protestors gathered across the road from the theatre singing hymns, whilst small children handed out leaflets about Christianity.
  • In St Andrews, a large group of protestors gathered across the street from the student union of the University of St Andrews, where a student production of the Jerry Springer opera was being performed. The performance was one of the largest and most elaborate ever put on by the University, and extra security was brought on board to ensure the safety of students as they entered and left the union. On the opening night, the cast received a standing ovation, despite the leaflets being distributed outside by members of the Christian Voice.

The opposition by Christian Voice caused the cancer charity Maggie's Centres to reject a £3,000 donation from Jerry Springer: The Opera. Christian Voice threatened to picket their centres, which provide palliative care to cancer sufferers and their families. It claimed it had warned the charity that accepting cash from a show full of "filth and blasphemy" would be a public relations disaster.[12]

In January 2007 Christian Voice, represented by Stephen Green, attempted to prosecute BBC director-general Mark Thompson for blasphemy over the show. A summons was refused due to lack of prima facie evidence that a crime had been committed, and a provision of the 1968 Theatres Act which enshrines the right of free expression in theatrical works.[13] An appeal to the High Court was dismissed on December 5, 2005, with the decision of the lower court upheld on all counts and ruling that it was reasonable to conclude that the play "in context" could not be considered as blasphemous.[14][15]

Asked about the controversy during an interview with The Observer in 2009, Lee stated:

If you have been on the verge of becoming a millionaire and that has not happened because of far-right pressure groups, and your work has been banned and taken apart, and you've been threatened with prosecution, and the police have advised people involved with your production to go into hiding, and bed and breakfasts won't have the cast to stay because they're blasphemers, and you have to cross a BNP picket line to go to work in Plymouth, you do start to think, well, what can be worse that that?[16]

Asked if the experience had an impact on his stand-up comedy, Lee replied: "It did make me feel there was not much point ever trying to reach a mass audience with anything interesting and provocative. You just run the risk of being misunderstood on a large scale".[16]

American regional productions

Hollywood Theater, MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada

The musical previewed on March 17 and 18, 2007, performed concert-style at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada as a benefit for Las Vegas-based HIV/AIDS charity Golden Rainbow.

Bailiwick Repertory Theatre in Chicago

The show had its official American premiere in a non-equity production in Chicago at the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre that began on May 3, 2007, with a May 14 opening.[17] Performances were scheduled to continue until July 8 but the show was then extended for additional performances until August 19. Bailiwick founder and artistic director David Zak (a seven-time Jeff Citations Awards winner) directed, with Brian Simmons playing the part of Jerry Springer and Jeremy Rill playing the part of Warm Up Man/The Devil.[18] The Bailiwick production featured an eight-piece orchestra and a cast of 29.[19] The show opened on May 14 to rave reviews[20][21][22] with Steve from the actual Jerry Springer show and Richard Thomas (composer/lyricist) in attendance. Reviews from major Chicago periodicals (Chicago Sun-Times[18] and Chicago Tribune[23]) are available online. The Bailiwick production was honored with a Non-Equity Jeff Award for Outstanding Musical Production on June 9, 2008, in Chicago. Jeremy Rill also won a Jeff for Supporting Actor in a Musical for his work as Warm-up Man/Satan.

PR shot for Playhouse on the Square's production with Michael Detroit as the Devil and Jim Hopkins as Jerry

Playhouse on the Square in Memphis

Though Chicago was the first to mount the show, Playhouse On the Square in Memphis, Tennessee was the first to receive a nonexclusive license, and the show was scheduled to run there from August 10 to September 9, 2007. Jerry Springer was played by Jim Hopkins.[24]

Derek Blechinger (Satan) and Carl M. Schoenborn (Jerry Springer) for Minneapolis Musical Theatre

Minneapolis Musical Theatre in Minneapolis

Minneapolis Musical Theatre presented Jerry Springer — The Opera October 5–28, 2007 at Hennepin Stages in the heart of the theatre district (downtown Minneapolis). Steven J. Meerdink directed, with music direction by Suzanne Reyburn.

Studio Theatre 2ndStage in Washington, D.C.

Washington, DC's Studio Theatre 2ndStage produced Jerry Springer: The Opera as part of its 2007/8 season.[25] Previews began on Wednesday, July 23, 2008 with protesters from the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property lining the streets.[26][27] Scheduled to run until August 17, 2008 (extended to August 31, 2008)(extended again to Sept. 7),[28] the show’s official opening kicked-off Studio Theatre’s 2ndStage 20th Anniversary[29] on Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 7:30pm, receiving rave reviews.[30][31][32]

2ndStage’s Artistic Director, Helen Hayes Award Winning Keith Alan Baker, directed the production, which was co-directed and choreographed by Helen Hayes Award Winning Matthew Gardiner.

Helen Hayes Award Winning Lawrence Redmond was cast as Jerry Springer[33] and Helen Hayes Award Nominated Bobby Smith played opposite him as Jonathan Weriz/Satan.[34]

StageWest Theater in Des Moines, Iowa

Philip King (left) as Satan and Mike Cornelison (right) as Jerry Springer, in StageWest's production of Jerry Springer, The Opera.
Emily Grundstad (left) as Baby Jane, Mike Cornelison (center) as Jerry Springer, Mark Maddy (right) as Tremont in StageWest's production of Jerry Springer, The Opera.

StageWest presented Jerry Springer, The Opera January 25 through February 16, 2008 at the Stoner Theater within the Civic Center in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Principal Production Personnel were Karla Kash and Todd Buchacker, co-directors; Paul Dieke, music director/vocal coach; David Decker, choreographer; and Ron Lambert, producing artistic director.

In spite of some controversy in the media, letters to the theatre, and picketing, performances played to full houses of wildly enthusiastic audiences. An additional week was added, but prior bookings in the space prevented more.

New Stage Collective in Cincinnati, Ohio

New Stage Collective presented Jerry Springer: The Opera June 26, 2008 through August 3, 2008 under the direction of Alan Patrick Kenny.[35]

SpeakEasy Stage Company in Boston, MA

SpeakEasy Stage Company will present the New England premiere of Jerry Springer: The Opera May 1–30, 2009 (extended through June 7 due to popular demand) under the direction director Paul Daigneault. The production will be staged in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. On Friday, May 1, a group of Catholic demonstrators calling themselves TFP - America Needs Fatima gathered in front of the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts to protest the opening night of the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Jerry Springer - The Opera.[36]

Australian productions

The Sydney Opera House presented "the Concert Version of the UK production, a cast of 21 performers, with an 8-piece band", from 21 to 26 April 2009, starring David Wenham as Jerry, David Bedella as Jonathan Weiruss/Satan, Ursula Yovich as Andrea/Archangel Michel, Kate Miller-Heidke as Peaches/Baby Jane, Alison Jiear as Shawntel/Eve, and Marcus Graham as special guest star; also appearing are Andrew Bevis and James Millar.[37][38]

Canadian productions

The first Canadian production opened in Toronto, ON on January 16, 2009 at Hart House Theatre. It was directed by theatre critic and Director Richard Ouzounian. Music Direction by Lily Ling and choreography by Shannon Cote. The best-selling show in Toronto for the 08 - 09 season. It featured Byron Rouse in the title Role and Jean-Paul Bevilacqua as "Jonathan/Satan". Other original Canadian Cast members include Linda Gallant (Shawntel/Eve), Scott Gorman (Montel/Adam), Jocelyn Howard (Peaches/Baby Jane), Brandi Hewitt (Zandra/Irene/Mary), Ian Bender (Tremont/Gabriel), Ben Mehl (Chucky/Jesus), Hayley Toane (Andrea/Angel Michael), Gregory Finney (Dwight/God), and James Schedlich (Steve Wilkos)

Awards

The show won four awards at the 2004 Laurence Olivier Awards–Best New Musical, Best Sound Design, Best Actor In A Musical (David Bedella) and Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical (the Chorus).[39] It also won Best Musical at the 2003 Critics' Circle Awards,[40] Best Musical at the 2003 Evening Standard Awards[41] and the 2004 Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Awards Best New Musical and London Newcomer of the Year (Benjamin Lake).[42] The show won four awards at the 2004 Nowt2Do.Com awards, Best actor in a musical (David Bedella) Best Actress in a musical (Alison Jiear) Best London Show, and Most Entertaining Show.[43] In 2006, the show won Best Touring Production at the TMA Awards.[44]

It is the only show ever to win all four "Best Musical" awards.

Television

Jerry Springer: The Opera was the subject of controversy when the BBC televised the musical on January 8, 2005 as part of an evening of Jerry Springer-themed programming on BBC Two. News of the screening had prompted TV standards campaigners Mediawatch to write a letter to the BBC Chairman of the BBC Governors, Michael Grade, asking him to reconsider the decision to show the musical.[45]

On January 7, the day before the broadcast, the BBC announced that it had received over 47,000 complaints about its plans to screen the musical – the most complaints ever received about a British television broadcast.[46] Many commentators, including the BBC, attributed such a high volume of complaints to an orchestrated campaign by various Christian groups. Supporters of the BBC's broadcasting of the show pointed out that the supposedly blasphemous content was clearly presented as a fantasy in the mind of the dying central character and was not intended to be a serious comment on Christ or Christian theology. John Beyer, chairman of Mediawatch-UK, argued that the BBC should shoulder much of the blame for the campaign against the musical since they had promoted the musical as "pushing back the boundaries of taste" and "controversial" when it had never been intended to offend the groups who campaigned against it.

In November 2005, a DVD of the show was made available in the UK. However, because of complaints by customers, Sainsbury's and Woolworths decided to stop selling the DVD. Many blogs and Liberal Democrat MP, Lynne Featherstone[47] condemned the action from the stores as being corporate censorship, something which both retailers deny. Most other retailers continue to stock the DVD.[48]

On the DVD's commentary, it was stated that it would not be possible to tour the show in the UK due to pressure from religious groups, but since the release of the DVD, the UK Tour 2006 went forward. The DVD commentary also stated that Stewart Lee was unhappy with an unscripted action by Alison Jiear. In the "Adam and Eve and Mary" scene in Act II, Jiear runs her hand under Jesus's loincloth, prompting a surprised look from Leon Craig, the actor playing Jesus. Lee said, on the commentary, "I wish she hadn't done that".

Profanity

The musical is noted for its profanity. It has been accused of including "8,000 obscenities"[46]—it is not known where this count originated, but the 8,000 figure is popularly quoted.[49][50] This however is impossible, as 8,000 obscenities over the show's 120 minute runtime would mean that there were 66 obscenities a minute, and thus over one per second. Several publications, including the Daily Mail and The Sun, claimed a figure of "3,168 mentions of the word fuck and 297 of the word cunt". As stated in the BBC's findings, however, "the reported figure was in fact a vast exaggeration. In reality, there were 96 uses of "fuck" and nine uses of "cunt". While a substantial number, this was not necessarily unacceptable in terms of late night terrestrial television."[51] The numbers reported were found by multiplying the number of cast members singing a profanity at the same time, ie the reported 297 uses of the word cunt is the result of multiplying the 33 cast members with the genuine amount of uses of the word, ie, nine times.

According to director Stewart Lee, there are 174 swear words in all.[52]

References

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Sources

External links








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