BWW Reviews: Balagan Takes JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA to Hell and Back Again
Opera has long been considered at the epitome of class and sophistication. Well it's time to give up that idea as "Jerry Springer: The Opera" has come to town from Balagan Theatre in association with Seattle Theatre Group, and they've taken the highbrow nature of Opera and defecated all over it. And guess what, it's awesome! And before you think this is just some crass parody with a lot of bathroom humor and sex jokes, well it is, but it's also a smart and meaningful show with soaring operatic performers who would (some of whom have) fit right in at Seattle Opera.
It's just another day at the Jerry Springer Show. The audience is riled up, the guests are ready to bare it all and Jerry (Brandon Felker) is ready to sort it all out on national television. But when Jerry's audience warm up man Jonathan (Sean Nelson) fails him once again, the resulting circumstances leave Jerry fighting for his life, or rather his afterlife, with some familiar faces along for the ride. I don't really want to say too much more than that lest I give away all the good stuff and there's good stuff aplenty thanks to writers Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee. Yes, the show is filled with many truly offensive moments (in a good way). But that's why Americans love Jerry Springer. It's a way to sit back and feel superior in our own lives while watching other's suffering and faults. And Thomas and Lee hit on each one of those Springer iconic freaks, but beyond all that is interwoven the commentary of our need for this kind of entertainment and for some the need to grasp for those 15 minutes of fame by making a spectacle out of yourself for all to see. Is it freeing or is it just sad and pathetic? That's for you to decide.
Director Shawn Belyea has once again shown off his ability to take a huge group of talent and turn them into one cohesive engine of talent and storytelling resulting in a hilarious and hard hitting evening. No, this show isn't for everyone. There are some out there that will find the language, sexual references, potty humor and religious satirization offensive beyond the point of entertainment. I mean there's got to be some reason Balagan has already received 40,000 disgruntled emails about the show before it even opened. But for those that can see the humor in this (and actually are willing to see the show before they judge it), for those lucky ones you will be in for a hell of a good time (pun intended).
The cast is just plain beyond amazing. With many folks from the world of opera mixed in with some of the best musical theater performers Seattle has to offer, it's a small wonder that the show sounded so crisp, clear and professional. Megan Chenovick ran off with the show every time she opened her mouth and those glorious pipes rang forth. Whether playing the jilted wife or the infantilized mistress she completely blew me away. As did Rachel DeShon with her angels, girlfriends and even a valkyrie and Jennifer Bromagen as dueling roles of a mistress and the mother of Christ. These three women were so clean, clear and powerful in their vocals that the supertitles (yes, it's an opera so there's supertitles) were scarcely needed. Kevin Douglass is giddily wonderful as both Jesus and the babyish Montel. Brian Lange and Lindsey Larson are delicious as the redneck stripper couple and Larson's "I just wanna dance" is a complete show stopper. Evan Woltz kills it as both the philandering Dwight and ... well ... God. Bo Mellinger struts his way around as the "other woman" Tremont with zeal and grace and couldn't be more perfect for the role. And Felker as Jerry (who doesn't sing) manages to hold all the craziness in check and keep it rolling. But if there was one minor qualm I had with the show it's Nelson as the warm up guy, Jonathan. Yes, he's got a gorgeous voice (as front man for the band Harvey Danger that's no surprise) but you could see he was the only non-actor up there as he was just a bit stiff in the role. But as I said, minor qualm.
The ensemble of audience members is from the theater gods, each of them shining with their individual characters and yet completely cohesive and synched with each other vocally, I'm sure due in large part to Belyea and Music Director Nathan Young. And Kathryn Van meter once again shows off with her stunning choreography which couldn't be easy with so many on that brilliantly appointed and multi-level set by Phillip Lienau. And speaking of the choreography, I won't mention that one brilliant surprise at the end of Act One (if you've seen it you know what I mean) but I have to mention the "megamix medley" at the end which was the perfect cherry on top of an already delicious show. That one minor qualm aside, Balagan has started the year off with a complete and utter hit that I'm sure you'll need to fight to get tickets for.
In case you missed it in my last review, with the new year comes new ideas and so I'm implementing a three letter rating system for my reviews. They range from good to bad with WOW (A can't miss), YAY (Too much fun), MEH+ (Good, with some great things going for it), MEH (Just OK), NAH (You can miss this one) and WTF (I think you can figure out my complex code there). And so for "Jerry Springer: The Opera" I give it a resounding WOW!
"Jerry Springer: The Opera" from Balagan Theatre and Seattle Theatre Group performs at the Moore Theatre through January 26th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.balagantheatre.org or www.stgpresents.org.