He may seem an unlikely subject for an opera, but a brash new musical about Jerry Springer is the hottest ticket in town
Memo to: Jerry Springer
From: Peter Bart
re: exploiting the exploiter
LONDON — Here’s a question I’ve never asked anyone: How does it feel to be an opera, Jerry?
What’s it like to learn you’re the hottest ticket in London — the hottest in years? And to know that the showbiz community is saying, “Jerry Springer’s an opera? You’ve got to be kidding.”
Not that you had anything to do with the show — let’s make that clear. Its star bears an astonishing resemblance to you, even holds his cards like you, but it ends there.
Indeed, I don’t think you would have designed a show in which you’re assassinated and go straight to hell, only to preside over fervid colloquies between God and Satan. All this with music and dance, no less.
You’re not exactly an empathetic figure in this show, Jerry. You emerge as a cynical impresario who exploits the freaks and deviates who parade before you. You’re the titan of trailer trash.
Mind you, it’s a brilliant show — brilliant and scatological. A move to Broadway seems inevitable. There was a 10-minute ovation at final curtain the other night from normally reserved Brits.
Not everyone is that exuberant. Arnold Wesker, the playwright, wrote a piece for the Daily Telegraph last week charging that “an air of fraudulence pervades the show.” The reason, Jerry, is that you bring forth these exhibitionists and losers “not to solve their problems just to televise them.”
In Wesker’s view, “trash is trash and eternally depressing.”
Well, Wesker may be depressed but London’s audiences seem ebullient. The sheer outrageousness and vulgarity of the show has created the sort of fever reminiscent of “The Producers” in New York two years ago.
True, “Jerry Springer — The Opera,” doesn’t have a chorus line of old ladies with aluminum walkers, but it does have 50 members of the Ku Klux Klan doing a pretty terrific tap dance in full wardrobe.
It also has a clever set, some show-stopping songs by Richard Thomas, hyperactive direction by Stewart Lee and a tinge of anti-Americanism that resonates with post-Iraq Brits.
And how do you emerge from all this, Jerry? On the one hand, you’ve been immortalized on the English stage — the National Theater, no less. You’re no longer merely a daytime talkshow host, you’re an icon.
But an icon who ends up in hell, Jerry — at least in the show. You’re this cold-ass exploiter who brings forth not just your tired and your poor but your deviant and demented. You’re the patron saint of transgender exhibitionists.
This is a career?
Who am I to judge? I never thought of you as opera material either.