From start to finish, Jerry Springer: The Opera, at Carnegie Hall is a drop-dead, no-doubt-about-it, oh-my-aching-sides hysterically funny piece of theater. Featuring Harvey Keitel as Jerry, and a 30-member cast plus on-stage orchestra, the show uses a no-holds-barred approach to replicate the oft-lambasted TV show in operatic fashion--which is funny enough!--and dives head-first into a second philosophically challenging post-mortem act featuring Jerry being forced by the devil to do his show . . . in Hell! With Satan (a role created by the incredible David Bedella), Jesus and God as guests! Get out of here!
White trash costumes never decked out such highly-regarded operatic talent so fittingly. They perfectly matched the in-your-face lyrics ripped from the flat screens of America. Sample:
A weird thing happened last night
when I went to take a leak
I would up pissing on a man
with a fabulous physique
I mean--how can you not love a show that offers a pole-dancing soprano, a contralto "chick-with-a-dick" and tap-dancing Ku Klux Klan members? Over-the-top has a new definition. But I wonder--how does cast member Lawrence Clayton--or any cast member, for that matter--explain to his family that he finally acheived his life-long dream of performing at Carnegie Hall to a sold-out audience--only by singing about the sexual arousal he feels when he shits on himself? And--oh, yeah--singing, while wearing only shoes, socks, and a diaper.
At the opening performance, two nearby patrons left during the second act, disappointed that none of the characters in the 2-hour production had any depth. "They're all caricatures!" one lamented. Not true. Writer Richard Thomas was able to find an inner beauty for each of his outcast characters, such as infantilist Baby Jane, played marvelously by Laura Shoop. In the midst of all this madness, suddenly, one would stop and spill a truly awe-inspiring beautiful aria about the universal call to find true love.
Still, with all the history of beauty at Carnegie Hall, it is a bit disconcerting to watch an operatic cat fight between a fat suburban housefrau and a coke whore, with the simple lyrics, "Bitch, bitch, you bitch, fuck you bitch." I mean--how low has our society sunk, that in a hall of culture, Jerry Springer: The Opera would prove to be such a success? But that's just the surface look at the show. It's what lies beneath that makes Jerry Springer: The Opera so fully-realized, endearing and--after the laughter wears off--haunting. It's the tracing through all of these outcasts, the common human link in the need for affection.
The production began at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2002 and has since run for nearly 700 performances in London. It was originally slated to move to Broadway in 2005, but didn't get enough backers. It toured in England for 22 weeks, facing pickets that forced the cancellation of runs at 9 theatres. Interestingly, the show has run in several U.S. locations successfully, including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago and Memphis. Still, several religious organizations have been protesting the Carnegie Hall event since it was announced, calling it "blashphemous" and picketing opening night. But let's face it: this is New York. Forty-seven years ago, Lenny Bruce performed Carnegie Hall, and no doubt stirred up similar controversy--but the show went on, to rave reviews.
To my mind, Jerry Springer: The Opera strikes a similar brilliant chord. And nearly 24 hours later, my stomach still aches from laughing so hard.
Rumor has it that Springer will finally get that longed-for Broadway run. Keep your fingers crossed, and if you need someone to see it with, I'll gladly go again.