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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Balagan and STG's riotous night at
Jerry Springer: The Opera at the Moore


Megan Chenovick
Sondheim it ain't, but there is entertainment value to be had at Balagan Theatre and Seattle Theatre Group's boldly bawdy Jerry Springer: The Opera, receiving its Northwest premiere production at the Moore Theatre. Though shock-talk shows like Springer's and that of his ex-bodyguard Steve Wilkos are on the wane, the material is still good for quite a few laughs, especially juxtaposed with an operatic style score.

Fearless director Shawn Belyea and an impressive cast of theatre stalwarts and opera up and comers tackle this spotty modern-day British comic opera by Richard Thomas (music) and Stewart Lee (book and lyrics) and score a TKO of a production over content. Thomas' music is at times soaringly accomplished and symphonic, while Lee's (necessarily) lewd and loquacious lyrics are not even in the same class, and the text could stand at least 15 minutes of editing. But Belyea, endlessly inventive choreographer Kathryn Van Meter, and exuberant musical director Nathan Young make sure the show really gives you a bang for your bucks (or in this case probably a gang bang).

Anyone who has even just read the TV Guide listings for the Springer show knows just by the episode titles what to expect ("Proposals: Fail"; "Slap Happy Wives"; "I Cheated On My Cousin with a Stripper"'; "Come Out of the Bathroom ... Face Me"; and "Stripper Mania" are this week's actual episode themes) and it ain't "Downton Abbey." Act one brings on adult (and diaper clad) babies, a man who is cheating with on his girlfriend with both her BFF and a male to female pre-op transsexual, redneck strippers and more, leading to a literal come to Jesus (or the Devil) act one climax for host Jerry, and a second act where Springer's holy or hellish fate are the ultimate outcome. Though the sound system for the show is improved from last fall's Carrie from Balagan, there are handy opera supertitles hanging above the action taking place on Phillip Lienau's accomplished sets, which are complemented adroitly by Ahren Buhmann's lighting design.

Leading the parade of talent in the cast is Megan Chenovick, who has satirical chops worthy of an SNL vet and a lyric coloratura soprano to match. She uses all her skills as Peaches, the cheated upon wife of the guy who's doing her BFF and a tranny, and is even more delicious as Baby Jane, the adult female baby. Jennifer Bromagen also reveals stunning operatic vocals and real comic zeal in her characterizations of Peaches' cheating BFF Zandra, Irene (the stripper's disapproving stripper's mom), and the Virgin Mary. Lindsey Larson and Brian Lange are hilarious as the redneck couple, and the effervescent Ms. Larson belts the bejesus out of "I Just Wanna Dance." Evan Woltz is great fun (and in fine voice) as Peaches' triple-crossing husband Dwight and as God in act two. Kevin Douglass is audacious and fearlessly amusing as the male adult baby Montel and as a flighty and fey Jesus Christ, Bo Mellinger camps with panache as the TS Tremont, and Rachel DeShon is impressive as Peaches' backstabbing BFF Andrea.

Brandon Felker fits comfortably into the title role of Springer, the bemused spectator to the carnival/freak show he is ringmaster of, and the role requires very little singing, which somehow seems appropriate. Of the principal cast, only Sean Nelson strains a bit in the acting department as Jonathan (the vengeful warm up man)/Satan. Ashley Bagwell is humorously deadpan as Steve Wilkos. The large ensemble, filled to overflow with rich voices and capable dancers (especially in Van Meter's hilarious act one finale) delivers the goods in abundance. The whole company is costumed with spot on excess and tongue in cheek by Carmen Olmedo.

A triumph of style over substance, Jerry Springer: The Musical could be fun for the whole family (particularly if said family includes an ex-priest in love with his male dwarf albino cousin who is married to a lesbian belly dancer).

Jerry Springer: The Opera runs at the Moore Theatre, 1932 2nd Ave in downtown Seattle through January 26th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.balagantheatre.org or www.stgpresents.org.


Photo: Jeff Carpenter



- David Edward Hughes



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