Jerry Springer The Opera, Cambridge Theatre

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

It might seem little more than a simple change of venue, but switching from the National to the West End is like a transfer from BBC2 to BBC1 - a move away from the discerning audience who have sought you out and into the dog-eat-dog world of mass consumerism.

So while Jerry Springer The Opera might previously have sat alongside a new version of one of Shakespeare's more obscure tragedies, now it must fight for attention against Mamma Mia! or a relentless Lloyd Webber warhorse if it is to become the genuine, full-blown hit it deserves to be.

It may sound unbelievably snobby, but West End audiences aren't known for their willingness to accept the sort of ironic intelligence that pervades Springer. This is, after all, a market where We Will Rock You is doing rather well and The Mousetrap is kept alive by stream of coaches from the provinces.

In its favour, the show has a title immediately recognisable to the American tourists who keep Theatreland in business. Whether or not they will be put off by the fact it is an opera - or by the fact that it sounds like a one-joke idea (An opera? About Jerry Springer? How very droll) - is more doubtful.

But nobody should be deterred. Nobody, that is, apart from those uncomfortable with the swearing, which is relentless, if stylishly done.

The show easily sustains the premise beyond that initial gag, thanks to a clever, cheeky and witty script from Stewart Lee. And the operatic elements are easily accessible to anyone who wouldn't otherwise know their arias from their elbow, thanks to the deft touch of composer Richard Thomas (who also co-wrote the lyrics).

What will really blow you away, though, is the sheer scale of the endeavour - from two dozen tap-dancing Ku Klux Klansmen to a chorus line of high-kicking Springers - the spectacle rarely lets up. If comedy is about exaggeration, this is about as big as a joke can get.

The first half of the show is, basically, America's scuzziest chat show set to brilliantly catchy music. A parade of trailer-trash losers is paraded in front of the barracking, jeering studio audience to reveal their screwed-up lives, loves and lusts.

These overweight couch potatoes live for their Jerry Springer moment, relishing every moment in the spotlight, while their genuine tragedies are served up as entertainment to make the slightly less messed-up couch potatoes feel good. ('We eat, excrete, and watch TV/But you are there for us, Jerry').

After the interval, things get even more gloriously overblown, as the script shoves its tongue even deeper into its cheek and has Springer tackle the epic Biblical battle of good versus evil, complete with demons, deities and a side order of delicious blasphemy. This is the full operatic monty, with four-letter lyrics that lodge in the mind.

Michael Brandon is a dead ringer for the king of sleaze, but more importantly recreates Springer's style, as the non-judgmental ringmaster, slyly luring his participants into the ever-increasing madness.

But it's not all about him, one strength of this show is in its varied cast of supporting characters, all of whom excel. If you'd have to single some out, maybe it would be David Bedella as the demonic warm-up man, Wills Morgan as the diaper-wearing Jesus or Lore Lixenberg as Baby Jane - but it would be a close call.

All the cast help make Jerry Springer The Opera an unashamed theatrical spectacular, which pulls out all the stops in the name of bad taste.

Final thought: The price. Not that freeloading reviewers normally consider this, but the best seats in the house are £50, making this the most expensive show in the West End, save for the Rod Stewart travesty Tonight's The Night. So while Jerry Springer has 'hit' tattooed all over it, the expense is likely to put it out of the pocket of many curious theatre-goers. No wonder West End audiences usually play it so safe.

Steve Bennett
November 16, 2003

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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