If you’ve ever seen an episode of Jerry Springer, a lot of Jerry Springer: The Opera will seem oddly familiar. This show features a cast of characters that are as vulgar as the trailer-trash contestants that originally displayed their wares, mental instability, and let it all hang out for the public to gawk at.
What makes this show so watchable is the music by Richard Thomas who also wrote lyrics, and the book and additional lyrics by Stewart Lee. Part operatic, part gospel, a splattering of rock and some riffs taken from “The Rhythm of Life” from Sweet Charity, this music soars. This show has some of the best voices I have heard on a Broadway – let alone an off-broadway – stage. Completely sung through by all except Jerry (perfectly embodied by the magnificent Terrence Mann) and Steve (Billy Hepfinger), the security man who women swooned after.
John Rando’s (A Christmas Story) direction sets the show completely all around you. In Act One, the contestants vie for their ten minutes of TV fame, considering their moments on the show as the best moments of their lives. As they air their dirty little secrets, we meet Dwight (the glorious voiced Luke Grooms), a fiancé who has cheated not only on his girlfriend Peaches (Florrie Bagel) with her best friend Sandra (Beth Kirkpatrick), but also a transsexual named Tremont (Sean Patrick Doyle). Montel (the wonderful Justine Keyes), a young man with a fetish, who wants his girlfriend Andrea (Elizabeth Loyacano) to join in with another baby named Jane (Jill Paice, An American In Paris). And a wife, Shawntel (Tiffany Mann), who dreams of pole dancing, though her hypocritical husband Chucky (Nathaniel Hackmann) and his ultra-Christian mother (Jennifer Allen) are adamantly against this. Then the KKK show up and Jerry is shot.
Act Two is Jerry defending his life in hell to his obsessed comic warm up, now Satan (the devilish Will Swenson, Waitress). Baby Jane wants to save Jerry, but Satan wants his day on the show against Jesus (Justine Keyes again) who keeps turning the other cheek, then hits back. The show turns blasphemous as Adam, Eve, and the Virgin Mary all end up needing Jesus to reconcile with them. Then God (Grooms) shows up stating “It Ain’t Easy Being Me”. Gun control is given its day and Jerry succeeds… or does he?
The cast is exquisite with stand-outs such as Sean Patrick Doyle, who moves with such grace and elegance and breaks our hearts with his love for Dwight. Tiffany Mann whose vocals on “I Just Wanna Dance” are seriously glorious. Justine Keyes whose bravery on “Montel’s Momentous” is stage watching. Jill Paice as Baby Jane has perfect tones on “This is My Jerry Springer Moment” and “Your Dreams” and seem otherworldly. Vocally, this whole cast, which also includes Brandon Contreras, Brad Greer, Kim Steele, and Nichole Turner, is heavenly.
John Rando’s direction is spot on. The choreography by Chris Bailey (Menier’s Assassins) is manic and energetic. The set by Derek McLane works well with the lighting by Jeff Crotier to make the perfect Jerry Springer TV Sound Stage on both earth and beyond. Costumes by Sarah Laux are a lot of fun. The music direction by Michael Brennan and orchestrations by Greg Anthony Rassen deserve award nominations.
Produced by the New Group, this show is brave, though at times, shocking. If obscenities offend you, beware. I am surprised this show is not being picked on by christian groups, but that tells you how far we have come or gone into bedlam.
Jerry Springer: The Opera: The New Group at The Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd St.
**Due to demand, a three-week extension with Matt McGrath appearing as Jerry Springer beginning March 13. Terrence Mann, currently appearing in the role of Jerry Springer, plays his final performance March 11 due to an existing commitment beyond that date. Jerry Springer – The Opera now plays through April 1.