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'Jerry Springer: The Opera' lampoons the sacred and profane alike
How do you adapt the world’s most notorious talk show to the live stage? Ten years ago, British musician Richard Thomas answered that (unasked?) question when he co-wrote “Jerry Springer: The Opera” with comedian Stewart Lee. What started as the running joke of Thomas’s previous show, “How to Write an Opera About Jerry Springer,” became an epic tale of good, evil and Springer’s suitability to judge either.
The original opera’s two-year London run inspired a UK tour and several American regional productions. In January, Balagan Theatre — the alternative company behind Pacific Northwest productions of “Avenue Q,” “ThanksKilling: The Musical” and most recently “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” — will produce the show at the Moore Theatre in Seattle. As of early December, when the Scene spoke with director Shawn Belyea, the cast was well into rehearsals and set designs were nearly complete.
“The show goes from about what you’d expect to a classical opera about how we think about our fellow human beings in writing,” Belyea said.
The plot opens on a typical day of “The Jerry Springer Show.” But in Act Two, the eponymous host is shot and brought down to Hell, where Satan demands he put on a special episode for the realm’s entertainment. God intervenes to ask Jerry to help him judge humanity, beginning a divine war for the shock talk host’s talents.
Belyea explained that, while the show does function as parody, it is a well-crafted opera in its own right, blended with elements of modern musical theater.
“It’s sung-through, meaning every single thing an actor says is sung, with the exception of some lines spoken by Jerry and his head of security, Steve Wilkos,” he said. “The reality is, classical music is much more demanding. We’re fortunate enough to have some true opera singers on our cast.”
Though it may go without saying for an opera based on an infamously raunchy daytime talk show, “Jerry Springer: The Opera” pushes the envelope of good taste, depicting strippers, fetishists and tap dancing Klansmen. From the first lines onward, Belyea said, the show is clearly intended for an adult audience. In other words, it’s the perfect show for Balagan’s established niche.
“(After beginning as a fringe theater company) we were trying to raise the profile of our audience, but also try to present this alternative,” Belyea said. “Family theaters, like Village Theatre or 5th Avenue, want the whole family to come out and see the show. If you look at just the first words of Jerry Springer, you don’t want to bring the whole family out to see it.”
“Jerry Springer: The Opera” runs at the Moore Theatre Jan. 10-26. Tickets and showtimes can be found at Balagan Theatre's website.