Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jerry Springer: The Opera

I wish I could write theatre reviews. I go to enough shows, more than everyone I know combined.

Perhaps it's an acquired talent? I could give it a whirl.

Tonight I went to see Jerry Springer: The Opera at U of T's Hart House. The enclosed video is a song from the play set to classical dances from films past.

I had seen the play previously, a filmed version of the British stage play. In person the play is wildly better. I loved that most of the cast was U of T students who added a youthful edge and enthusiasm that might not be conveyed in a more professional production.

The first act of the play is the reason to go. Basically three groups of guests come on to the Jerry Springer show and sing songs and tell their deceptions. Fights ensure, and all the songs have great lines. "I don't give a fuck no more if people think I am a whore." "Dip me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians". This isn't family theatre.

I remembered the second act being terrible and although it improved based on the general strength of the performers, it still needs a drastic re-write. Jerry Springer goes to Hell and runs his show with the Devil, Jesus, Mary, etc. It just goes way off base from the core of the show and sets up a moralistic tone that doesn't feel genuine.

Stand out performers were JP Bevilacqua as the Warm-Up Guy and Satan. Looking a little like Pee-Wee Herman he is a ball of energy and adds a great dynamic to all his scenes. Also Ian Bender (pictured above) playing the "chick with the dick" Tremont gives a Tim Curry style Rocky Horror type performance and brings down the house in the first act of the show. Ian is also playing in the Wizard of Oz and the Isabel Bader theatre.

Lowlights were Greg Finney (pictured above left) as Dwight and God. I first saw him as the minister in Footloose: The Musical and he brought nothing to that role. Here he looks out of place as a middle aged man amongst university students. And when he takes off his shirt... not good. Acting was just bland and unemotional. Also Linda Gallant as the stripper. One song transcended this musical, the gay club hit "I Just Wanna Fuckin' Dance" from the video above so it better be sung well. The audience in the theatre was half gay men, they know this song, and for her to squeak out a varibly rendition just didn't cut it. She may have the butt for her song "Talk to the ass" but the voice needs work.

Overall great fun and a must see before it closes at the end of the month.

Let's see what eye magazine said:

"Why is the Olivier Award-winning musical Jerry Springer — The Opera (2003) receiving its Canadian premiere at a university theatre? Why has it been performed in New York only for two nights in concert? At first one might assume this has to do with its extraordinarily crude language or its incredibly lurid and, to fundamentalist Christians, extremely blasphemous subject matter. Judging from the Hart House production the answer is simple — while the first half is blissfully outrageous and inventive, the second is boring.

As the musical’s title suggests, the show’s single joke is the contrast between its lowbrow content and the highbrow pretensions of its music to opera. Composer Richard Thomas’ rich score references the whole history of classical music — from sacred liturgy to baroque opera and oratorio to Carl Orff — while still maintaining a pop sensibility. Meanwhile, Stewart Lee’s lyrics ensure no form of profanity, blasphemy or scatology is ignored. This technique works best in the show’s first half, which musicalizes a typical Springer show. There’s the man cheating on his fiancĂ©e with two women and a guy, the husband who tells his wife that he’s an infantilist with a dirty-diaper fetish and the woman who confronts her redneck husband with her ambition to be a pole dancer. Thomas, naturally enough, uses the rowdy stage audience as a chorus.

Unfortunately, when we move into Jerry’s mind in the second half, the creators seem to have used up all their ideas. The score is not as inventive and the schoolboy idea of Satan (a marionette-like J.P. Bevilacqua) forcing Jerry to hold a show in hell with guests like Adam (Scott Gorman), Eve (Linda Gallant) and Jesus (Benjamin Mehl) strives to be offensive but goes nowhere.

Toronto Star
theatre critic Richard Ouzounian provides efficient direction, trying to find a scrap of humanity amid all the heavy satire, and Byron Rouse is excellent as the slick, non-singing Springer, whose false air of concern can’t hide his loathing for his guests, but the show seems to end about three times before it just peters out. Indeed, Jerry Springer — The Opera gradually expanded from a one-act work in 2000 to its present three-act form, and by the end, more exhausted than elated, you can’t help but feel it is two acts too long."

Basically the same.

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