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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
Springer success story continues
By Neil Smith
BBC News Online

Michael Brandon as Jerry Springer
Michael Brandon plays Springer in the West End production
Award-winning musical Jerry Springer - The Opera is set to open on Broadway next year. BBC News Online analyses its phenomenal success.

Men in nappies and tap-dancing members of the Ku Klux Klan are just two of the delights awaiting anyone who sees the operatic version of the notorious US talk show.

Championed by the National Theatre's new artistic director Nicholas Hytner, the musical has become a cult sensation despite - or perhaps because of - a script containing more than 8,000 swear words.

But few people who saw an early workshop of Jerry Springer -The Opera at the Battersea Arts Centre in south London three years ago would have guessed it would now be on the verge of taking Broadway by storm.

The brainchild of composer Richard Thomas and comedian Stewart Lee, the show was performed in concert at the 2002 Edinburgh Festival and opened at London's National Theatre the following year.

After an extended run, it transferred to the Cambridge Theatre in November 2003 where it regularly plays to full houses.

Sexual fetishes

Based on Springer's lurid show, the musical represents a head-on collision between high art and trash culture.

Set during a typical Jerry Springer programme, the show features a generic line-up of unfortunates whose bizarre fixations and sexual fetishes are eagerly devoured by a baying studio audience.

Jerry Springer - The Opera
The musical was a huge hit for London's National Theatre
The stage is presided over by Springer himself, played by former Dempsey and Makepeace star Michael Brandon, who is apparently shot dead at the end of the first act.

After the interval, he is forced to resolve a divine quarrel between God and the Devil.

The soundtrack album features a Parental Guidance sticker warning of "explicit lyrics" - something more usually found on hard-core rap and rock CDs.

But the profanities form part of a classically sung libretto that features traditional arias and choruses and a Wagnerian descent into hell.

The critics have been fulsome in their praise.

The Daily Telegraph's reviewer called it "the most startling and enjoyable piece of musical theatre I have seen in years", while the London Evening Standard hailed "a cult musical with the hip and young in mind".

However, some pundits have expressed reservations over the second act, while the Financial Times said it is "not a masterpiece that keeps growing in your head with further acquaintance".

Celebrity endorsements

Still, this did not stop the show being named best musical at the Olivier Awards, the Critics' Circle Awards and the Evening Standard Awards.

The show has also attracted a large number of celebrity endorsements, from Oasis stars Noel and Liam Gallagher to Pop Idol judge Simon Cowell.

Jerry Springer - The Opera
The show features cameos from Adam, Eve and the Angel Gabriel
Part of the show's success may be down to its original score - something of a rarity in a West End dominated of late by tribute musicals featuring familiar tunes by Queen, Rod Stewart and Abba.

It is also hard to underestimate the mischievous appeal of seeing one of culture's most elitist art forms treated with such scabrous disrespect.

However, some believe its producers are taking a big gamble transferring the show to New York in October 2005.

"It's much more up for grabs on Broadway," said Matt Wolf, London theatre critic for trade paper Variety.

"In America people may well think of this as a bunch of Brits taking the mickey out of an American phenomenon," he told BBC News Online.

"It's a very real risk for Broadway. I don't think it's a dead cert at all."

'Absolute raves'

The production is scheduled to open in San Francisco for a six-week run before transferring to New York.

According to Matt Wolf, San Francisco is "probably the only other city in George Bush's America that's willing to listen to the sort of language the musical revels in".

La Boheme
Baz Luhrmann's La Boheme was forced to close after seven months
Commercial opera has enjoyed mixed fortunes in New York's theatreland. Baz Luhrmann's updated production of La Boheme was forced to close in June 2003 after running up losses of $6m (3.3m).

"La Boheme got absolute raves from the New York critics but they never figured out a way to make it work financially," explains Mr Wolf.

However, Jerry Springer producer John Thoday remains bullish about his chances.

"Americans who come over to see the show in London absolutely love it, so we are hoping it will get the same response over there," he said.

And if reports that Springer may play himself in the show are to be believed, it will mark another twist in the remarkable career of the former mayor-turned-trash TV guru.

Springer opera set for Broadway
27 Apr 04  |  Entertainment
Springer opera wins theatre prize
24 Nov 03  |  Entertainment
Springer leads West End ovation
11 Nov 03  |  Entertainment
La Boheme to close on Broadway
12 Jun 03  |  Entertainment

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