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Regional Reviews by Matthew Small

Jerry Springer - The Opera
SpeakEasy Stage Company

Jerry Springer the Opera
Timothy John Smith and Cast
My mother was not pleased when she caught me after school sitting in front of the television set watching "The Jerry Springer Show" in the '90s. That was when the expletives were bleeped out at a rapid pace. I can only imagine her outright disapproval if she'd accompanied me to the uncensored production of Jerry Springer - The Opera, complete with an endless chain of curse words sung throughout the grotesque spectacle at the Boston Center for the Arts. This isn't The Sound of Music, for sure.

Nothing is off limits in the Boston premiere of this Olivier Award-winning musical, skillfully directed by SpeakEasy Stage Company's Artistic Director Paul Daigneault. Creators Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee unleash a pepper spray attack of sexual references, secret longings, religious jabs and endless F-bombs on the audience. It's not surprising that Broadway producers canceled this show for explicit content.

You will be offended at least once—probably more than once. And that's the point. Walking into the theatre, you may mistake Eric Levenson's scenic design for the actual live studio television set the real Springer used in Chicago. As you sit down, prepare yourself to chant the requisite "Jerry! Jerry!" whenever there's trouble a-brewin'. After all, this is your Jerry Springer moment.

We find ourselves in the midst of a taping for "The Jerry Springer Show," re-imagined in an "Ally McBeal"-meets-Wagner, song-and-dance kind of way. The guests are crass and ready for a fight. So is the audience, many of them cast members and some who paid to get in here like you. After a tragic turn of events during Jerry's "Final Thought," the second act sends us all to hell (not that we weren't already doomed after laughing along to this score), where our leading man and his guests grapple with the impact of their fame-seeking ways.

Marrying hoity-toity opera with the messy realities of American life, SpeakEasy enlisted the talents of a number of students and alumni from The Boston Conservatory, as well as other professionals from Boston and New York. Some have studied musical theater, but the performers who really make this show gel are the legitimate opera singers.

Ariana Valdes as Peaches/Baby Jane will be as formidable at the Metropolitan Opera as she is at the BCA. With a powerful and committed voice, Valdes proves she has the comedic prowess to pull off her roles. Joelle Lurie is equally engaging as Shawntel, desperate for a career as a pole dancer. Wesley Ray Thomas, with biker-length hair and a fantastic operatic sound, brings both Chucky and Adam to life.

Michael Fennimore is a suitable Jerry Springer, though the show is less about the title character and more about the havoc his show wreaks on America (or is it about the havoc America wreaks on his show?). Timothy John Smith is the Warm-Up Man who really heats things up as Satan in the second act. Other featured performers include Amelia Broome, Kerry A. Dowling, Luke Grooms, John Porell, Brian Richard Robinson and Jared Troilo.

The ensemble—a gang of caffeinated audience members and imposing security guards—is exceptional, filling more roles than I could count. Whether singing, heckling or dancing (nothing tops the white-cloaked tap number choreographed by David Connolly), each actor offers distinct, memorable characters without the courtesy of lines from the authors to help create their identities.

Congratulations to the creative team for bringing this large production to life. Production Stage Manager Dawn Schall maintains an endless number of technical cues. Seághan McKay designed colorfully creative, often live, projections. Seth Bodie must have created over a hundred costumes for the show. He and his construction crew deserve a vacation. Aaron Mack's sound occasionally clips out, but these wireless mics probably were not intended for opera. Unfortunately, the performers are sometimes lost in the shadows on stage. I have a suspicion that they may be missing their marks. Any lighting designer will sympathize with this issue, especially when Karen Perlow faces the challenge of lighting 23 cast members.

If you're looking for something serious, uplifting or quaint, look elsewhere. But if you are willing to risk listening to a grown woman dressed as a baby singing an aria about her hind quarters, get your own derriere to the BCA for Jerry Springer - The Opera by May 30. For tickets and information, call (617) 933-8600 or visit www.bostontheatrescene.com.


Photo: Stratton McCrady



- Matthew Small

Follow Matthew's Boston area theater updates on Twitter: http://twitter.com/msmallreviews.



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