Outrageous, audacious, sacrilegious and delicious, “Jerry Springer: The Opera” has rolled into D.C. to SRO auds and an immediate three-week extension at the Studio Theater. And why not? A city often accused of taking itself too seriously actually loves nothing better than the savage skewering of a mighty institution, especially when administered in such an unabashedly lighthearted fashion.
With its 34-member cast and band, “Springer” is the largest show ever mounted by Studio’s 2nd Stage, the 20-year-old division of the D.C. theater that specializes in cutting edge works, typically without Equity troupes.
Studio artistic director Keith Alan Baker aims high with this sprawling production that consumes every inch of the Metheny Theater. For starters, he has tapped seasoned pros Lawrence Redmond and Bobby Smith for the principal roles, both of them clearly savoring dream assignments.
As the embattled but unrelentingly smooth titular talkshow host, Redmond adroitly fuels the mania that propels this wildly entertaining musical. The wig and glasses are perfect, the voice mellifluous and reassuring and the smile omnipresent as the emcee strolls the aisles and sidesteps a galaxy of obstacles.
Smith is brilliant as both the hapless and vengeful sidekick in act one and the swaggering devil relishing his confrontation with God in act two. Together, Redmond and Smith soar to comedic and operatic heights, especially their act-two duet based on a single unmentionable curse word.
Other memorable perfs are turned in by Melynda Burdette, doubling as an irate talkshow guest and Mary; and Ron Curameng, as both a talkshow foil and a corpulent Jesus Christ, who spends most of the evening clad in a diaper. He wins hands-down for the year’s most courageous performance. Aaron Reeder is also a stitch as an angry transsexual. Reeder and Curameng are among numerous cast members who also perform with the Washington National Opera.
Matthew Gardiner’s free-flowing choreography is first rate, as are all technical aspects including Erik Trester’s projections.
Like other full productions of “Springer” popping up at adventurous U.S. theaters, this staging reaches simultaneously for operatic highs and cultural lows with assistance from its rowdy chorus of “patrons” plucked from the first three rows, eager to parody religion and spew profanity in every direction. Sing on.