Tuesday, March 10, 2015

JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA • New Line Theatre

"Jerry Springer: The Opera", by Brits Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, premiered in London twelve years ago and received the 2004 Olivier Award for Best New Musical. If you've ever seen the infamously controversial tabloid talk show that inspired this musical, you can imagine that there's a generous dose of profanity throughout, and subject matter that could make the boldest blush. So, yeah -- while this isn't a musical for the faint-hearted, honestly, there is something disarming and inherently funny about the pairing of operatic music with dirty lyrics, and with this ensemble, under Scott Miller's zestful direction, the emotion churning below the surface of these outrageous stories goes a long way in making the profane more palatable.

We start with Jonathan, the warm-up man (Matt Pentecost), who lays down the general rules for the show to the boisterous studio audience, who await the appearance of Jerry Springer (Keith Thompson) with joyous anticipation. The first act carries on like a typical Springer show, where we meet Dwight (a reliably engaging Zachary Allen Farmer) who is cheating on his fiancée Peaches (Taylor Pietz) with Zandra (a very funny Lindsey Jones), a dope addict. Dwight's also making time with Tremont (Luke Steingruby), a transexual. Fights and profanity ensue. Second up is Montel (Marshall Jennings), who needs to tell his girlfriend, Andrea (Christina Rios), about the secret fetish he harbors and the woman he's been cheating with -- Baby Jane (Pietz). Jennings embraces his number with uninhibited gusto, while the disgust Rios displays is hilarious. The last guests of the act are Chucky (Ryan Foizey), a back-country hick whose girlfriend Shawntel (Anna Skidis) has dreams of being a pole-dancer.

Zachary Allen Farmer (Dwight) and Taylor Pietz (Peaches).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
During the proceedings, Jerry's director of security, Steve Wilkos (Matt Hill), has his hands full breaking up fights, and Jerry is periodically admonished by his Inner Valkyrie (Kimi Short), but it's the blasphemous third act that has drawn the most controversy. After a purgatorial second act, Jerry finds himself in hell, trying to straighten out the long-held differences between Satan, dynamically played by Pentecost, and Jesus, a righteously confident Jennings. Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee's script loses a little steam during this third act, but is no less infused with frenzied energy by this committed cast.

Keith Thompson (Jerry Springer), Christina Rios (Andrea)
and Marshall Jennings (Montel).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Pentecost, Jennings, Farmer, Foizey, Skidis, Pietz and Jones double, and even triple-up on roles, while Thompson holds the center as the title role with appeal and earnest detachment. The music, a mix of operatic arias and the more traditional Broadway-type fare, is challenging, and the cast handles the score admirably, with Jones, Pietz, Skidis, Jennings and Rios tackling the demands of the music with standout talent. The mix of harmonies when the ensemble's voices come together is beautiful, and the New Line Band, under Jeffrey Richard Carter's music direction, manages the score nicely as well. Scenic designer Rob Lippert pulls off a smart reproduction of the television show's set, and costume designer Sarah Porter (who also appears as an extremely tanned member of the studio audience) outdoes herself with a huge number of insightfully informed outfits for the 19 member cast.

Anna Skidis (Shawntel) and Ryan Foizey (Chucky).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Beyond the chicks with dicks, fecal fetishes and tap-dancing Klansmen, there's genuine poignancy in numbers like "I Wanna Sing Something Beautiful" and "I Just Wanna Dance." Of course there are also numbers like "Foursome Guests", "Diaper Man" and "Mama Gimme Smack on the Asshole", but in the context of the show, these people aren't freaks. They're all yearning for their "Jerry Springer Moment" -- bigger than life characters who get bigger than life numbers, with common themes of treachery, love, desire, loss, vengeance, and the craving for 15 minutes of fame, running behind the veneer of vulgarity. So go on. Have your "Jerry Springer Moment." You'll likely not have the chance to see this again.

Matt Pentecost (Satan) and Marshall Jennings (Jesus).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Also, don't forget that this year's St. Louis Theater Circle Awards will be held on the 23rd of this month at COCA, with New Line Theatre among the nominees. It promises to be a fun night, and will be telecast 'live' on HEC-TV (Charter channel 989, U-Verse channel 99) and streamed 'live' on the HEC-TV web site.


JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA

Music by Richard Thomas
Book/lyrics by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas
Directed by Scott Miller
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through March 28 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Tap-dancing Klansmen
Cast:
Keith Thompson (Jerry Springer), Matt Pentecost (Jonathan Wierus/Satan), Matt Hill (Steve), Zachary Allen Farmer (Dwight/God), Ryan Foizey (Chucky/Adam), Marshall Jennings (Montel/Jesus), Lindsey Jones (Zandra/Irene/Mary), Taylor Pietz (Peaches/Baby Jane), Christina Rios (Andrea), Anna Skidis (Shawntel/Eve), Luke Steingruby (Tremont), Kimi Short (Jerry's Inner Valkyrie), Studio Audience: Reynaldo Arceno, Tyler Cheatem, Joel Hackbarth, Ann Hier, Sarah Porter, Michelle Sauer, Kimi Short and Christopher Strawhun.

Creative:
Assistant director, Mike Dowdy; music direction by Jeffrey Richard Carter; scenic and lighting design by Rob Lippert; costume design by Sarah Porter; sound design by Benjamin Rosemann; props master, Kimi Short; severed head design by Patricia Edmonds; choreographer, Robin Michelle Berger; dance captain, Michelle Sauer; fight choreographer, Nicholas Kelly.

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Jeffrey Richard Carter; guitar, D. Mike Bauer; second keyboard, Sue Goldford; percussion, Clancy Newell; trumpet, Patrick Swan; reeds, Robert Vinson.

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