Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester; Tuesday 13th August, 2019
It ain’t easy being me:
billions of voices,
making all the wrong choices;
then turning around and blaming me.
Nearly three decades have passed since The Jerry Springer Show burst off American cable channels and became a massive and instant TV hit across the world. The simple formula for creating entertainment out of ordinary people airing their dirty laundry in public still holds an elusive X factor that imitators have never quite matched.
Something about Jerry Springer made him the perfect host for a show so full of hostility. In amongst the violence of guests throwing sofas at each other on stage and the raucous studio audience demanding ever more fury, Jerry would often be the last hope for everyone’s sanity: the wise old man despairingly shaking his head and demanding that everyone just sit down and resolve things fairly and reasonably.
Jerry Springer: The Opera first appeared a decade after the TV show and it very much feeds off the original programme’s ability to deliver illicit entertainment through exploitation of what should otherwise be the private suffering of others.
The cast is huge: in the early stages 22 performers are up on their feet on stage, which definitely was not big enough to handle them all. But it began to make sense when they took their seats: these performers were playing the role of Jerry’s studio audience, fully incorporated into the actual audience in attendance for the musical.
These front two rows were as obnoxious as you might expect a Jerry Springer audience to be: very loud, very wild, casually scoffing their crisps, leering and jeering at the warm-up man – theatre etiquette’s worst nightmare.
The opening scenes became an elongated act of hero-worship and it was impossible to not get drawn in by the hype. Eventually the man himself appeared and promptly gave the audience (both parts of them) what they really wanted: a classic episode of his famous show.
“Bring on the losers!!!” was the shout from the front rows. And Jerry delivered exactly that: a shocking mix of characters and situations, secrets and lies, confrontations and violent arguments.
Jerry Springer: The Opera is delivered almost entirely in musical form: the typically happy, jolly rhythms and melodies of conventional musical theatre – yet punctuated by the most foul and offensive lyrics that you couldn’t even imagine if you tried.
The show is, therefore, effectively an extravagant dramatisation of what are already outrageous underlying personal dramas. It’s the classic formula of He Said, She Said until nobody can remember what the question is anymore. We really shouldn’t be watching this, but we certainly can’t look away from it.
At one point Jerry points out that anyone can take the moral high ground; but his is a talk show that comfortably and steadily occupies the moral low ground. Jerry Springer: The Opera does the same, unashamedly scraping the depths of entertainment morality but doing so in a very impressive and laudible manner.
Two strong moods seem to come out of this performance: one is the entertainment lust that the original Jerry Springer Show oozed, the need for fresh meat that we can all be involved in killing, the vicious hunger to look down our noses at other people for gratuitous entertainment; but that is soon followed by a second, more sombre mood, namely a guilty and uncomfortable fidgeting, an uneasy contemplation of what we ourselves have become by watching such a spectacle, of not considering what it must feel like for Jerry’s guests.
The shocking scenes are quite shocking for theatre’s standards, but they’re in the context of the Jerry Springer phenomenon, hence they become charmingly amusing rather than shocking. It’s quite easy to see why the original musical caused so much offence nearly two decades ago, but in the internet age where every human being and their problems are exposed to every other human being, the shock element feels almost familiar and thus less potent in its ability to truly shock.
The biggest achievement of this show feels as if it is the concept of the audience within an audience – the front rows of Jerry’s audience may have been behaving badly but then we were literally all in it, we all wanted the same entertainment, they just happened to be a bit louder about it. And so just as Jerry had to eventually confront the reality of what he had done and what he’d become, so did we.
In Jerry Springer: The Opera, the production team at Northern Ricochet have created a joyous, sing-along, happy clappy, arms in the air kind of show that fans of the original TV program will love and adore. The energy coming from the performing cast is extraordinary and makes for a fantastic entertainment spectacle – simultaneously a tribute and a rebuttal of an entertainment concept that once ruled the TV world not so long ago.
Photography: Anthony Robling
|Visual pleasure||Looked a little bit cramped on stage and that seemed to limit the staging and set, almost felt as if the cast were slightly restricted by the lack of space to move and flow more easily. Otherwise it is an excellent visual spectacle with ingenious and hilarious use of props and costumes.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||Stunningly good piece of musical composition, in a show that is entirely delivered through song, other than by the main character who seems to be the only one who speaks his lines.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||Incredibly good piece of writing, though the second half felt a little laboured and seemed to elongate the show unnecessarily. Generated both of the main moods of the original TV show: the lust for entertainment at the expense of others, and then the guilt of laughing at them.||4|
|Artistic delivery||Outstanding performances from what was a huge cast, every word was sung perfectly and clearly which is unusual for a musical. Every individual seemed to deliver a perfect performance in terms of timing and vocal output, the net result was stunning.||5|
|Overall impact||An excellent production that provides two hours of non-stop entertainment in high gear. Probably will still cause offence but it feels like a known quantity, hence it can do less harm.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|