JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA


Jerry Springer has arrived in Anaheim Hills, and some of the natives are up in arms. Open-minded theatergoers, on the other hand, will be lining up in droves to catch the Southern California Premiere of Jerry Springer: The Opera, a sensational Chance Theater production which once again proves that for controversial, intimate-stage excellence in the OC,nobody does it better than the Chance.

 

Enraged churchgoers have been flooding the theater’s mailbox with email after email promising eternal damnation for what they call blasphemous Jerry-Show appearances by Jesus, Mary, Adam, Eve, the Devil, and God himself—though someone should have clued them in on the difference between the previous week’s highly protested previews and last night’s Gala Opening Night, which attracted only a lonely-looking pair standing forlornly on the sidewalk overlooking the theater parking lot.

My best guess is that the OC protesters don’t have Jerry’s still-running shock-talk show on their Must See TV lists, or else they would realize that Biblical figures with an ax to grind might indeed find themselves slugging it out amidst shouts of “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” on a real life Springer Show.

The brilliance of Jerry Springer: The Opera is its juxtaposition of foul language and even fouler human specimens with gorgeously composed and sung operatic songs. (The show features music by Richard Thomas, book and lyrics by Stewart Lee and Thomas.) It’s not every day that a trashily-dressed soprano hits glorious high notes with “Mama gimmee smack on the a**hole!” or a diaper-clad tenor soars with “I just wanna sh*t my pants.” (If you feel that either of these lyrics, or constant use of the F-word aren’t your thing, then feel free to pass on Jerry. There’ll be plenty willing to fill your seat.)

Did I mention that there’s a production number featuring the Ku Klux Klan alternately tapping and goose-stepping to “This Is My Jerry Springer Moment”?

Since the original London production is said to have featured a cast of thirty-plus accompanied by a fifty-piece orchestra, let me reassure you that even with a considerably smaller cast of nineteen and orchestra of six, the Chance has filled the 50ish-seat theater with thrilling vocals and splendid instrumental accompaniment. Even without a single Equity member in the cast (unfortunately AE’s 99-seat plan does not extend to Orange County), there’s not a weak voice onstage, and each performer has acting and dance chops to match. As for Trevor Biship’s expert direction, it simply couldn’t be better.

Act One features several segments a la the real Jerry Springer show. In the first, a big burly guy named Dwight reveals to his wife Peaches that he’s been cheating on her with her best friend Zandra, then shocks them both with the news that he’s also been having sex with Tremont, a Rubenesque male-to-female pre-op transsexual. After (tongue-in-cheek) commercials, a bearded blond Montel confesses to his girlfriend Andrea that he just wants to poop in his Calvin Kleins with the help of a grown-up Baby Jane. Finally, redneck Chucky learns that his wife Shawntel dreams of becoming an exotic pole dancer who just wants to “f***ing dance,” Shawntel then demonstrating said talent to her mother Irene’s and Chucky’s horror.

As to how Jerry ends up in Hell, well for that you’ll just have to see the show.

Jerry (a spot-on Warren Draper) is virtually the only character who doesn’t sing, though he does come up with some delicious understatements: Dwight (singing): I’ve been seeing, seeing someone! Someone, seeing someone else! Peaches (singing): What the f**k? What the f**k? What the f**king f**king f**k? Jerry (spoken): Peaches, you seem surprised.

Otherwise, the cast is jam-packed with some of the best vocalists I’ve heard in a Chance production, as rich and powerful as any I’ve enjoyed in larger, more “prestigious” venues.

It’s hard to find enough superlatives to describe the work of David Laffey (Jerry’s warm-up guy and Satan), Jovani McCleary (Dwight and God), Erika C. Miller (Peaches and Baby Jane), Laura M. Hathaway (Zandra, Irene, and the Virgin Mary), Matthew Ballestero (Tremont and the Angel Gabriel), Jared Pugh (Montel and Jesus), Katie Kitani (Andrea and Angel Michael), Kyle Cooper (Chucky/Adam), and Jessie Withers (Shawntel and Eve). Only time and space limitations prevent me from going on and on about each and every one of these triple threats, but I’d be remiss not to salute Withers’ showstopping rendition of “I Just Wanna Dance.” (All that’s missing is one of the song’s irresistible dance remixes.) David McCormick as real-life Jerry Springer head of security Steve Wilkos has a mostly non-singing role, but he gets special mention for the physicality of his performance, including some fight choreography that looks like it must hurt as much as it dazzles.

The ensemble (Travis Ammann, Stephanie Bull, Israel Cortez, Rebecca Fondiler, Kelly Spill, Ryan Spindel, Andrea Paquin, and Nathan Willingham) appear as (singing) audience members and various other characters, and they are all phenomenal.

Vocally, the cast performs to perfection under Mike Wilkins’ impeccable music direction. As for their dance prowess, not all may have been trained dancers when they met choreographer extraordinaire Kelly Todd, but by opening night, all were executing dance number after dance number—including a one-two punch grand finale—as if they’d been tap dancing and high kicking all their lives.

Visually, Jerry Springer: The Opera is a knockout, from Caitlin Lainoff’s thrust stage scenic design, which has us imagining we’re at a real Jerry Springer taping, to Brian S. Shevelenko’s vibrant lighting design, to Lianne Arnold’s imaginative projection design, to Casey Long’s expert sound design, to Julie Wilkins’ wild-and-crazy hair and make-up design, to Chance Dean’s authentic looking fight choreography. Anthony Tran’s costumes deserve special mention for their imagination and trashy flair. Courtny Greenough is stage manager.

You don’t have to be a Jerry Springer lover to love Jerry Springer The Opera, though does help if you’ve enjoyed an episode or two, even though you may not have approved of the panelists’ bad language and behavior. At the risk of raising the ire of the show’s self-righteous protesters, I’d venture to say that their Lord and Savior might well have preferred the show’s open-armed acceptance of all kinds of people to the self-appointed finger-pointing outside the theater.

I daresay most avid theatergoers will be giving this oh-so unusual summer treat a big thumbs up, and its naysayers a different digit of the hand.

The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills.
www.chancetheater.com

–Steven Stanley
July 9, 2011

Photos: Chance Theater

Comments are closed.