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First night - 30.04.03
Jerry Springer the Opera poster
It was composer Richard Thomas's witty and eventually profound idea to see in The Jerry Springer Show something that he could turn into a modern opera

Profanities encased in gorgeous melodies and a storyline which descends to Hell and back - Mark Shenton applauds the National's new hit musical-cum-opera...



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Jerry Springer the Opera (Lyttelton, National Theatre)
Never has the case for mu
sical theatre as a narcotic been more persuasive than with this show: it's so compulsive that it could become addictive.

"As it detonates every taboo, with laughter ricocheting around the theatre, the show becomes an equal opportunities offender..."

It certainly leaves you high, floating on the exhilarating waves of its sheer chutzpah and utter brilliance.

A show like no other, it sees a modern cultural television phenomenon - the confessional chat show - inventively appropriated to become a phenomenal musical-cum-opera.

"We eat, we excrete, and we watch tv/and you are there for us Jerry", goes one of the few printable refrains in a show that has profanity graffiti-ed to almost every lyric.

But the frequently gorgeous melodies of composer Richard Thomas are offset against the words (by Thomas and co-writer/director Stewart Lee) to create an extraordinary dramatic tension.


In the first act, a typical episode of the Jerry Springer show comes to life. There's the rotund man who admits to his fiancée that not only has he been seeing someone else - her best friend, a sometime crack and dope addict - but also a transvestite, who proudly tells his rivals: "Talk to the hand because the face ain't listening".

Jerry Springer the Opera
A new take on the baby father figure in Jerry Springer the Opera

Then there's another man who tells his girlfriend, "I want to be your baby, baby" - and means it literally, throwing his clothes off to reveal the sight of a grown-man wearing diapers.

Finally, there's a larger-than-life, buxom blonde who reaches out to find her own dignity and independence from her abusive redneck husband through her desire to become a pole-dancer.

Just when you think it can't get any more delicious or delirious, out comes a line of tap-dancing Ku Klux clansmen to take your breath away.


Tough though this might seem to follow, the show doesn't end here. For the second act, Jerry finds himself in Hell - and an even more hellish version of his own show in which Jesus, no less, is called to account for his actions by Satan, Adam and Eve, his mother Mary, and even God, who descends from Heaven to declare: "It ain't easy being me".

As it detonates every taboo, with laughter ricocheting around the theatre, the show becomes an equal opportunities offender.

Don't go if you're easily upset; but don't miss it if you want to be challenged, surprised and exhilarated.

See also: Jerry Springer hits the stage

Jerry Springer the Opera is at the National's Lyttelton Theatre and will run in rep for 48 performances only to 5 July. Box office: 020 7452 3000

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