Finally, America will get its Jerry Springer moment. It just won’t be as grand as originally planned.
“Jerry Springer: The Opera,” the controversial musical that was a hit in London and once seemed headed for Broadway, will make its U.S. debut in May at the Bailiwick Repertory Theater in Chicago, longtime home to Springer’s eponymous tabloid TV talkshow.
“With Jerry here in town, Chicago is the natural place to introduce the musical to American audiences,” said Bailiwick artistic director David Zak.
Written by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas, “Jerry Springer: The Opera” juxtaposes modes of high art — Bach-inspired arias, a Greek-style chorus — with the regular denizens of Springer’s lowbrow daytime yakker: transvestites, Ku Klux Klan members and adulterers galore.
The show proved popular with critics and audiences at London’s National Theater, where it had its first full production in April 2003. It transferred to the West End later that year, taking home a slew of major awards, including the Olivier for musical.
Producers announced plans to bring the show to the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco, followed by a Broadway engagement, but the production never materialized. New York City Opera also was rumored at one time to be a possible destination for the show, which includes songs like “Chick With a Dick” and “Mama Gimme Smack on the A**hole.”
As those stagings were being pondered, the West End production started losing steam. It closed after 609 perfs, reportedly failing to recoup its investment.
The BBC taped the show and televised it in January 2005. Christian groups, angered by the depictions of God and Jesus in the show’s final act, registered more than 47,000 protest calls, and BBC execs reported getting death threats over content deemed blasphemous by many. The show toured England in a slightly scaled-down version.
Zak will helm the musical in the theater’s 150-seat mainstage. Show begins previews May 3 for a May 14 opening and is slated to run through July 8. However, Zak hopes it will extend beyond that date.
Although the show originally targeting higher-profile venues for its U.S. debut, Zak believes the Bailiwick is uniquely situated to produce “Springer.” Even with its small space, the theater has experience with large musicals — it staged a production of “Parade” with a cast of 30. And the theater also produced the Chi preem of Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi,” another show that sparked religious controversy.
Zak plans a cast of 25 and an orchestra of six, about the same size as the English touring show.