Friday, September 17, 2010

Jerry Springer Goes to Hell

The West Coast premiere of a shockingly successful 2003 London musical, "Jerry Springer: The Opera," has just opened for a month-long run at the Victoria Theatre on 16th Street off of Mission. It's being produced by the 10-year-old Ray of Light theatre company, an itinerant musical group that has had a few recent successes at the 100-year-old theatre with versions of "Bat Boy," "Rocky Horror Picture Show," and "The Who's Tommy."

"Jerry Springer: The Opera" is on a whole different order of ambitiousness, a sung-through work that's half rock opera and half British oratorio, for a cast of 40 singers who need to have serious vocal and acting abilities to do the piece justice. It's a pleasure to report that the cast and crew of this huge show have pulled the task off and you'd better hurry and buy tickets now before the word spreads and the show sells out its run (click here).

The main character in the musical is actually the chorus, who are magnificent as they taunt characters from the sidelines, sing advertisements, interfere in the proceedings, and transform themselves into choirs from heaven and hell.

My only complaint is that everyone is miked, and though the sound mix was fine on Thursday evening, it was too loud. It suited the material, though, and the eight-piece band led by Ben Prince on keyboards (above) was superb. They were so good they deserve their own mention: David Choo, keyboards; Fred Johnson, drums; Brendan West, guitar; Jason Park, trumpet; Philip Hobson, French horn; and Hermann Lara and Lendle San Jose on woodwinds.

With hardly any weak links in the cast, there were also a couple of spectacularly good performances, including Jonathan Reisfeld (above) as both the Warm Up Man on the Jerry Springer Show in Act 1 and Satan in Acts 2 and 3.

Also worth special mention are the trio above (left to right): Steve Hess as Dwight, an adulterous Springer guest in Act 1 and God in the second half; Tracy Camp as Peaches his wife, and then the Head Nurse in Purgatory; and Timotio Artusio as a pre-op transsexual who's also having sex with Dwight. Artusio just about walked away with the show during his "Talk to the Hand" showpiece with the chorus, which is a great call-and-response number.

There is signage everywhere around the front of the theatre warning patrons about the dirty language in the piece, and there is a note in the program, "If you're upset or offended by the content, we're sorry, but no refunds will be provided." They aren't kidding, as the musical is relentlessly, gleefully obscene, but it works.

The director, M. Graham Smith, in his smart notes in the program writes:
"The show, conceived by a British writing team [Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee] and originally produced in London, has always seemed part of that most beloved niche of British comedy: making fun of Americans. We are so vain, so emotional, so shameless, so impulsive, so crude, so desperate for validation and willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to be on TV. Directing the show in America, the show feels less judgmental about its characters, and celebrates the clusterfuck that is life in a young, messy democracy, and getting messier every day."


John Marcher said...

I agree Mike- this is a fantastic show and I can't recommend it enough. Nice touch naming the musicians, for everyone involved in this completely locally-cast production does an exceptional job. See it!

Matthew Hubbard said...

My review is up as well, giving some link love to you and to the cast list.

This is your Jerry Springer moment.

AphotoAday said...

I don't know why I need to mention this, but 42 years ago I remember the Victoria as a rather seedy burlesque theater.