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Onstage: Review: Jerry Springer: The Opera

Springer? Opera at New Stage? Oh, yeah!

By Tom McElfresh · June 25th, 2008 · Onstage

Think about it for a bit and you�ll realize that Jerry Springer�s televised shoutspiels are the very stuff of which opera is made. You�ve got your tissue-thin, sob-story plots, your outrageous characters, your outsized emotions and the characters� tendency to strip-search their motives and analyze their most private thoughts in public � all that plus the simmering threat (and bloodthirsty anticipation) of violence.

Sounds like most of the repertoire at Cincinnati Opera.

Now, give that the sort of exuberant, take-no-prisoners production that director Alan Patrick Kenny and his New Stage Collective minions have used for Jerry Springer: The Opera and � despite some timing and focus blunders in Act One and an Act Two finale that overstays its welcome � you have an evening of mocking, stomping, slap-dazzle fun.

Imagine an opera that earns belly-laughs. Think, if you can, about a dozen tap-dancing Ku Klux Klansmen. Consider a bisexual Lothario who�s triple-timing his fianc�e with her �crack whore� best friend and a transvestite in elevator boots. Think about a heroine of operatic proportions who realizes her ambition to be a pole dancer in a strip club and makes a thoroughly provocative job of it. Think about a singing Satan in a red brocade tuxedo, demanding that Springer mediate an apology for him for being tossed out of heaven and a whining, near-naked Jesus with sparkle dust in his hair.

And that�s but a fraction of the merry fracas.

Now, imagine this fracas revealed in witty lyrics (Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas) sung to a likeable, listenable score (Thomas) featuring a couple of tunes (�This Is My Jerry Springer Moment,� �It Ain't Easy Being Me�) that are sufficiently accessible and memorable to hum later. It�s a mammoth undertaking for New Stage.

Kenny packs the narrow loft space on Main Street with a dozen full-voiced principles (nary a dud among them), a well-tuned chorus of 13, eight musicians, an army of technicians and, on opening night, a sell-out audience of 105. In the title role one of Cincinnati�s favorite actors, Nick Rose, doesn�t sing but nicely catches Springer�s wry, bantering tone and clipped delivery.

Outside on opening night, 30 or so orderly picketers chanted, held up banners and protested perceived obscenity and blasphemy in Springer, holding fast even during a brief rain shower. (See the CityBeat news story about the controversy here.)

Inside, about 25 minutes into the performance, an electrical glitch blacked out the stage and caused a 20-minute delay. Glitch fixed, the show resumed with spirits undampened, though focus and pace remained a little rattled until intermission.

Divine intervention was not suspected. Subsequent performances will likely run smoothly.

Since its Edinburgh Fringe Festival premiere (with Cincinnati�s former Mayor in enthusiastic attendance) and its 600-plus performance run in London, people have been counting expletives and debating whether Springer is obscene. In thought and word, yeah, probably. In deed, debatable.

Nobody gets naked. There�s little suggestive behavior. But obscenity should be a broader issue than nudity and four-letter words. My Webster's says, first, that obscene means �disgusting to the senses.� That�s gonna depend on who does the sensing. Secondly, obscene means �abhorrent to morality or virtue.�

The libretto might mock some viewers� narrow construction of �morality� and �virtue� as referring primarily to sexual proclivities, but it does not �abhor� a broader morality or seek to pervert virtue. Thirdly, Webster's says that something obscene is �designed to incite lust or depravity.� That�s a hoot.

Springer is designed to incite laughter and to entertain. At New Stage it succeeds. Operatically. Amen.

Critic's Pick

JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA, presented by New Stage Collective, continues through Aug. 3. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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