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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Springer tour saved by theatres
David Soul as Jerry Springer
The opera featured Jesus and God as guests on Springer's TV show
A nationwide tour of the controversial musical Jerry Springer - The Opera will go ahead after 21 regional theatres struck a deal to save it from collapse.

The show seemed doomed when 30% of theatres pulled out after a Christian group said it would picket venues.

Arts Council England turned down a bid for tour funding, but denied coming under pressure from Christian Voice.

The theatres have now agreed to pool marketing costs and the show will open in Plymouth in January.

The musical's creative team are also waiving royalties. Co-writer and composer Richard Thomas said he was "overjoyed".

'Freedom of speech'

"These theatres have come together and asked: 'What do we have to do to get this show on the road?' They have decided they will not be dictated to by a group like Christian Voice," he said.

"If the tour had not gone ahead, the result would be that investors and producers would become more and more risk averse. This is a freedom of speech issue."

Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, accused the show's director, Stewart Lee, of being driven by a "perverse missionary fervour".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I wonder if the municipal theatres from Plymouth to Aberdeen share his anti-Christian zeal and are prepared to sacrifice community cohesion for it?"

We are trying to get across that it is not a show about blasphemy
Richard Thomas
Show's co-writer
Mr Green called on people to hold prayer vigils outside the theatres involved to try to encourage them to withdraw from the tour, and to write to their local councillors.

The award-winning West End show has been seen by 425,000 people and was watched by an audience of 2.4 million when it was shown on BBC Two in January.

But its content led to the BBC receiving a record 63,000 complaints.

Producers applied to the Arts Council England for a 200,000 grant to stage the national tour but were turned down, an Arts Council spokeswoman said.

We have not bowed to pressure from extreme groups
Arts Council England
They refused because they could not put public money into a commercial venture that was likely to make a profit, she said - not because they came under pressure from protesters.

"We have not bowed to pressure from extreme groups - to suggest this is nonsense - and we continue to condemn any attack on freedom of artistic expression," a statement said.

Mr Thomas said he was confident that audiences across Britain would enjoy the show.

"We are trying to get across that it is not a show about blasphemy. It is morally uplifting. It is not about Jesus in a nappy," he said.

Jerry Springer - The Opera will run for 22 weeks, starting at Plymouth's Theatre Royal.

Its nationwide tour will also include the Manchester Opera House, Oxford New Theatre, Glasgow King's Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Leicester's De Montfort Hall, Cambridge Corn Exchange and Newcastle Theatre Royal.



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