Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Jerry Springer The Opera

photo: Seth Wenig

There are singing and dancing Klansmen, and songs about the joys of pants-pooping or of pole dancing, but the most shocking thing about this obscenity-laden protest-provoking musical take on the trash-tv show is that it’s boring and dated. The first act, which mostly seeks to musicalize an episode of the show, passes by mostly on the promise of its one-joke conceit, but how many laughs can be wrung out of the incongruity of filthy-mouthed trailer trash singing faux-operatically? The answer is about half as many as are tried for. The freakshow passions of the talk show guests - the guy who wants his fiance to indulge his diaper fetish, the chick with a dick who is lovesick for a two-timer, etc: - are treated as lurid pageant as on the tv show and then mined for "meaning". They have their crazy needs and demands but deep down they just want to be loved. That’s about as deep as we get, and since the show eventually puts them all in Hell anyway, it could hardly be said that the characters are written with anything like genuine compassion or dignity. The second act, which imagines God and Satan as the sparring guests in Springer’s afterlife, has always felt pretentious and entirely superfluous: in this concert version it was also interminable, since it demanded so much of Harvey Keitel, miscast and off the mark as Springer. He played him like a milquetoast. The show is a sendup of America as its British writers see it, but it’s not particularly sharp or insightful stuff, and with the television show now long gone from our pop culture radar, the musical now lacks even the illusion of cultural relevancy. I have one good thing to say about the evening and it’s that Max von Essen’s cheerfully sassy turn as transexual Tremont pumped a few minutes of real juice into this sucker. Otherwise, Jerry Springer The Opera hit New York dead on arrival.

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