By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
It is rude, crude, profane and makes fun of the Bible. But it’s also one of the funniest shows to hit Orange County in years.
The show: “Jerry Springer: The Opera,” an award-winning hit from London, that is now having a Southern California premiere at Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills – certainly a coup for this small venue.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the Jerry Springer’s TV show. Couples come on and precede to reveal outrageous secrets, often about extra-marital trysts. Tempers flair and fights erupt, prodded on by the studio audience. Security officers hustle to calm situations.
All this, lorded over by Springer, the low-key host, presenting himself as the voice of temperance; of course, he is the enabler of this mayhem. The show, on television internationally for 18 years, is credited for giving birth to today’s reality shows. “Jersey Shore,” Big Brother” and their ilk now command big ratings.
This presentation is a combination opera and musical, featuring a large energetic cast, directed by Trevor Biship, with story and songs by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas.
Parodied here are the conventions of opera. Most dialogue is sung. There are big-voiced tenors with emotion-packed arias, flowery trills delivered by bel canto sopranos, duos sing in counterpoint.
As on Broadway, there are high-kicking ensemble numbers and tap-dancing choruses. (To be savored is the dancing KKK ensemble in white robes and masks.)
The set, designed by Caitlin Lainoff duplicates a real broadcast studio, replete with “on-air” signs flashing. Along the back is a projection screen on which humorous mock commercials are shown. Those and CNN-type news bulletins add comic verisimilitude, while commenting on stage happenings.
Three show segments make up the first act.What the authors have seemingly done is to take actual broadcasts and tweaked the proceeding, to emphasize the “trailer-trash” outrageousness. As guests reveal dirty little secrets – cheating with best friends, sleeping with crack whores and transvestites, indulging in weird fetishes – the outcome results in hair-pulling cat fights and “mano a mano” threats. All this mayhem egged on by the rabid crowd. Good ribald fun is the outcome.
Warren Draper is a dead-on Jerry, capturing all the host’s false sincerity. He tries to cool down inflammatory situations, but of course, he arranged it all. He is aided and abetted by David Laffey as Jonathon, the pushy audience “warmer upper.” The first half ends abruptly, though when Springer is shot.
In the second half, Springer regains consciousness in a way-station to hell where he is greeted by a litigious Satan ( Laffey again). He demands Springer host his show in his afterworld, confronting God, making him apologize for kicking him out of heaven.
This show continues with other Biblical figures brought in to receive apologies – Adam and Eve, for example, protesting their exile from paradise. This all works out for a screwball ending with a show-stopper finale.
Everyone in the cast handles the singing well. Songs standing out are “This Is My Jerry Springer Moment, ” “Jerry Eleison” (Catholics know where this comes from), and “It Ain’t Easy Being Me,” God’s big number.
Finally, the show is not really sacrilegious – just good fun in a Monty Python vein. If the jokes offend, best not to attend. By the way, Chance has gotten over 20,000 e-mails, mostly damning the show and cast. Ironically, this controversy will probably increase ticket sales.
The “Opera” plays through Aug. 7. For tickets and information: call (721) 777-3033 or go to www.chancetheater.com