Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Jerry Springer - The Opera

Music by Richard Thomas, book and lyrics by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas
RNT Lyttelton
(2003)

Well, cover me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians - what an amazing show. I've heard a few reviewers on TV and radio over the past few days being a bit sniffy about it, and asking the kind of questions intellectual reviewers are supposedly supposed to ask, such as "Is it really Opera?", "Is it really Art?", but who cares what label you stick on it? I'd say it's a case of sui generis. I loved every minute of it, and would gladly see the show once a week for as long as the run lasts if I had the time and money to spare. And I'm sure the general public won't worry their heads about "arty labels" either, but just turn up in droves and lap it up.

The show, which began life last summer at the Edinburgh Festival (see our review), is both visually and musically spectacular. Visually, there is an array of costumes that you wouldn't imagine in your wildest dreams, especially in the second act: just when you're thinking "There couldn't possibly be another costume change", here come the chorus in yet another guise - from nurses, to angels, to Jerry Springer lookalikes. How they manage to change so quickly is one of life's great mysteries. Commercial breaks punctuate Act One, with small screens descending to show parodies of the worst kind of trashy TV ad, and there's an hilarious, cabaret-style Klu Klux Klan number with a burning cross to take us into the interval on a really high note. Musically, the show is an extravagant mixture of opera, oratorio and West End musical, with scintillating harmonies and sensitive orchestration; the singers themselves are on the whole classically trained, and would, I'm sure, be just as much at home at the Coliseum or the Royal Opera House. Loré Lixenberg (Peaches and Baby Jane) in particular haunts the mind's ear and eye for days afterwards.

Act One is based fairly closely on the format of the Jerry Springer Show, with two sets of "trailer trash" guests arriving to air their embarrassing personal problems in front of an often unruly studio audience (made up of a nicely differentiated chorus, with parodic American names such as Dwayne John Hooper III, Letitia Moesha Jackson and Clint Elvis Jnr), and three bouncers to break up the inevitable fights. Act Two, without giving the whole game away, is a kind of dark mirror image of the show, with some neat and clever transformations - the Warm-Up Man becomes Satan (warm-up, Satan, fires of hell - geddit?), Montel with the nappy fetish becomes Jesus in a loincloth, the unhappily married Shawntel and Chucky become Eve and Adam (also unhappily married), and Dwight, an embattled man at the centre of a love rectangle (that's like a love triangle, but with an added complication), becomes a longsuffering God - "It so ain't easy bein' me", he sings, and I for one was inclined to sympathise. After all, if it's hard for even God to be God, then the rest of us don't need to feel quite so bad when the going gets rough, do we?

As for Jerry himself, he is played convincingly and delightfully by Michael Brandon (of Dempsey and Makepeace fame) in gold-rimmed spectacles, blond wavy wig, dark suit, white shirt and yellow tie. More or less in control of events in Act One, poor old Jerry is given a really tough time in Act Two, but he keeps his patience and his dry, mid-western sense of humour throughout, and somehow we know it will come out right in the end. And, just when we think it's all over, with curtain calls and all that jazz, there's more, and more, and more - which is a Good Thing, because we didn't really want it to end anyway.

"Jerry Springer - The Opera" runs until 5th July

Reviewer: Gill Stoker