Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jerry Springer: The Opera

...or don't get your pants all in a bunch, as Ben Brantley did in his review of the show. I got tickets only because I love Harvey Keitel. And the thought of seeing him live on stage was enough for me to withstand several hours of camp (which I am not fond of). Unfortunately, my seat was rather in the Himalayan heights of Carnegie Hall's balcony and I think that the distance and the very uneven miked sound made me like the show less than Ben, who probably had the best seat in the house.
Still, the show is a hoot. It is extraordinarily vulgar and meant to epater the most stoic, puritanical American constitutions with generous heaps of vulgarity and blasphemy. It makes sense: the original TV show is as low as it gets, so no need to get all prissy. It is certainly a lot of fun to see it turned into an opera where every part, except that of Jerry, is sung by people with operatic voices. At the beginning, when one of the guests confesses he's cheating on his wife with two others, the joke works well: the drama is operatic allright, even if one of the lovers is a crack whore and the other one a transsexual. And the combination of raunchy language and operatic music is very funny. But it does get a little thin after a while, in my opinion, because the score is not that great. There are a number of really good "arias", but a lot of it is repetitive. And the bad sound didn't help at all. I also differ from -- let's call him Ben for the sake of brevity-- in that by the end of Act I the conceit of the TV show was starting to grate, and I was grateful for Act II, which takes place in hell and the guests of the show happen to be God and Jesus and Satan. Taking the talk show to this extreme is facile but fun and there is a gorgeous showstopper sung by Jesus and Satan that's probably the only aria ever written with only the words "fuck you" as lyrics.
God shows up with a sweater tied around his shoulders, like a perfectly oblivious nerd, and he sings a fabulous song called "It's not easy being me". I loved him. Though the humor is uneven, it is right that this show was written by a British subject, since it skewers the American penchant for self-dramatization in a way that would probably escape a native. It's not that everybody wants to be famous. It's that everything is about ME. It's that there is always a cheap psychological excuse for the inexcusable. Its' all about recrimination and the parceling out of blame. ME ME ME ME . Even God is a kvetch.
Watching the show I thought of how, lately, when faced with public tragedies, Americans have embraced a completely undignified form of mourning, what I call the Princess Diana syndrome, with outward protestations of grief like leaving teddy bears and flowers and the candles in lieu of discretion and quiet reflection and respect for the dead and their families. Apparently, somebody has decided that corny sentiment is OKAY. (I was not consulted). This week some idiot in New York Magazine writes about how Heath Ledger lived in HER neighborhood, Park Slope, Brooklyn, and walked down HER street and used HER dry cleaners and was left alone by HER. And we're supposed to applaud this. And everything becomes not about him, but about her and her stupid Park Slope I feel like firebombing to ashes (with my apologies to Cynthia and other Brooklynite friends).
And that is part of what the show makes fun of. Our seemingly inexhaustible capacity for self-indulgence which translates into putrid taste.
Now, a word of advice to potential investors in Jerry Springer: the Opera. Unlike Ben, I don't care if there are biblical amounts of protesters outside the theater; this should only sell more tickets. And I do think the show should find a home in NY, but not on Broadway. Although, on second thought, it should be on Broadway just to scare the bejesus of our esteemed guests from Peoria. They can all run crying to see Mamma Mia!
Still, this play would probably be better served by a smaller stage, and not made into a million dollar Broadway extravaganza. Much of its wayward charm is that is fringe, and trying to translate it into a shiny Broadway endeavor may doom it. Whatever its fate, here is a kvetch about the sound: either it is operatic or it is Ethel Mermany. Either you mike everybody, or you don't. Some belters were way too loud, yet the choir was unintelligible. I think it works better if the voices are operatic, but some of the singers need to work on their diction. It's not fun if the audience can't make out the jokes.

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