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Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of The New Group's JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA?

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of The New Group's JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA?

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! It's "The Jerry Springer Show" as you've never seen it before, with passionate arias, soaring ballads, and giant production numbers. While the studio audience cheers, a parade of bickering guests fight and curse, until violence breaks out and Jerry (Terrence Mann) must face his trickiest guest ever, the devil himself (Will Swenson). Deeply in tune with the chaos and unrestrained id of our times, Jerry Springer - The Opera, a gleefully profane musical by Richard Thomas (Music, Book, Lyrics) and Stewart Lee (Book, Additional Lyrics) is an outrageous celebration of our national ritual of public humiliation and redemption. Jerry Springer - The Opera, winner of numerous awards including an Olivier Award for best new musical, will have its Off-Broadway premiere in this production from The New Group, choreographed by Chris Bailey and directed by John Rando.

The show opened on Thursday, February 22. The limited Off-Broadway engagement is slated through March 11 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Mr. Rando's production, which is choreographed by Chris Bailey with a wit that finds the patterns in chaos, never lets that happen. It insists that the audience for "Jerry Springer - The Opera" and Jerry Springer the talk show are ultimately one.

This intimate staging, in which Jerry's next guest could well be sitting near you, never lets us think that we're better than the suckers onstage. For while it may have its nominal stars, "Jerry Springer" is really all about the American people of today - we the people, they the people and, yes, even you.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: John Rando's small-scale staging proves inventive at times, with such clever visual touches as the "On Air" signs changing to read "On Fire" for the second act. But the combination of the large cast (17 members, which is roughly half that of the original London production) and small venue inevitably make for a cramped, claustrophobic feeling. The performers, however, are terrific, from the supporting players who sing beautifully while getting laughs in the process to Swenson's charismatic turns in his dual roles and Mann's amusingly hapless Jerry. It does seem a shame, however, that Mann, a superb musical-theater performer, doesn't get a chance to show off his pipes in this speaking-only role.

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: On one level, of course, this is simply high camp, genuinely entertaining for those who can stomach the language. But there are some more significant messages, notably from Springer (who's been shot, complicated story). "I'd like to add my name to the list of celebrities calling for tighter gun control," he proclaims, before the chorus repeatedly sings "Take care of yourselves and each other." No matter what you think of guys in diapers, those words are something to reflect on these days.

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Still, all that is swamped by the realization that the one-joke show is past its sell date. Long past. I felt the same way when I saw it in 2003 in London and at Carnegie Hall in a concert version in 2010.

So while it's hard to recommend "Jerry Springer," it's easy to acknowledge director John Rando's terrific cast that's led by Terrence Mann as Jerry and Will Swenson as his warm-up man and - when the show literally goes to hell - Satan.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: No, the dirty secret behind the delayed arrival of "Jerry Springer - The Opera" is that the show's not very good. Thomas's music is uninspired pastiche, and his and Lee's lyrics derive most of their humor from having operatically trained voices sing four-letter words. This inferior score is draped over a nearly inept book, also by Thomas and Lee, which attempts to retool itself during intermission only to skid into total confusion.

Naveen Kumar, Towleroad: Class is the one thing that unites Springer's guests with his heckling audience, recreated here with a chorus that occupies the front rows. That this craven peanut gallery is fueled by their desire to feel superior to those who are worse off is a dynamic the musical might have done well to explore, particularly right now.

Instead, it settles for cheap, if at times hearty, laughs. A bizarre theological battle between Jesus and the devil in the second act set in hell does little to grapple with the earthly sins laid out (much more divertingly) in the first. While Jerry pays lip-service, as the host himself does at the end of each episode, to his audience taking care of ourselves and each other, by this musical's conclusion, the sentiment rings hollow.

Photo Credit: Monique Carboni

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