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BWW Reviews: New Line Theatre's Shocking and Superb JERRY SPRINGER THE OPERA

I always know to expect the unexpected when I attend a production by New Line Theatre. Artistic Director Scott Miller has a gift for choosing shows that are consistently engaging, entertaining, and smartly cast and directed. Whether it's a revival of a classic or something of a more recent vintage, each receives the same special care and attention that makes the old seem new again, and makes you wonder why some of the newer material wasn't more successful during their initial runs. With Jerry Springer the Opera, New Line brings us the St. Louis premier of a musical that has actually achieved a modicum of success (including a filmed staging in 2005), but it's not a choice that you're likely to find anywhere else in this region due to its adult nature and content. New Line is dedicated to taking those kind of risks. And, I'm so glad they are, because I love seeing presentations that push the envelope, especially when they're done so brilliantly. Jerry Springer the Opera (music by Richard Thomas with book and lyrics by Stewart Lee and Thomas) delivers a unique, funny, tuneful, and completely tasteless parade of humanity that will win you over immediately. Prepare yourself to see opera from an entirely different perspective, in way that manages to stay true to the very tropes that define the genre, while turning them on their head with delicious blasphemy.

In keeping with operatic tradition there are three acts. After the overture and warm-up we're treated to a typical succession of guests, who reveal their indiscretions and peculiarities, much to the dismay of their partners. But, shockingly, Jerry is shot and, not so surprisingly, winds up in hell. Act two and three neatly dovetail together, with Jerry adjusting to his surroundings before he's confronted by the devil with an offer. It seems he wants Jerry to take his act to purgatory so that he can bring about a reconciliation of sorts with Jesus. Revealing any more details than that would spoil the fun.

Keith Thompson is a really good fit in the role of Jerry Springer, and even though he doesn't sing (although his Inner Valkyrie is given voice by Kimi Short), he displays the demeanor we've all come to know and loathe about this American icon. Matt Pentecost is terrific as the sycophantic Warm-Up Man, but really gets to let loose as Satan. Zachary Allen Farmer, who always gives his all, is a blast as the cheating Dwight, and appropriately pious and laid-back as God. Anna Skidis makes an impression as the pole-dancing Shawntel, and later appears as Eve. Marshall Jennings is also memorable as an adult baby named Montel, and does nice work as Jesus. Taylor Pietz scores with some strong vocals as both Peaches and Baby Jane, and Ryan Foizey is solid as trailer-trash Chucky and Adam, while Christina Rios adds a touching moment to the proceedings as Andrea. Lindsey Jones takes on three roles, and manages to make Zandra, Irene, and Mary into distinct characters. Matt Hill amuses as the ubiquitous peace keeper, Steve, and Luke Steingruby appears as the cross-dressing Tremont. Reynaldo Arceno, Tyler Cheatem, Joel Hackbarth, Ann Hier, Sarah Porter, Michelle Sauer, the aforementioned Kimi Short, and Christopher Strawhun provide an energetic presence as the studio audience.

Scott Miller can add another robust directing credit to his ever-burgeoning list with his superb work here. This could be a bit of a daunting show to produce since it's an opera, but this cast is really up to the task. So is music director Jeffrey Richard Carter (pianist and conductor), who takes a small ensemble (D. Mike Bauer on guitar, Sue Goldford on keyboard, Clancy Newell on percussion, Patrick Swan on trumpet, and Robert Vinson on reeds), and makes them sound big without overpowering the vocailsts. Rob Lippert's scenic design and lighting is straight forward and effective at bringing the trademark set for Springer's show, as well as Hell, to the stage. Robin Michelle Berger's choreography adds another playful layer to the proceedings, and Sarah Porter's costumes do a splendid job of defining each character.

What else can I say? I really loved this show, and I think you should see it. It has a kind of artistic "shock value" that you won't find anywhere else. New Line Theatre's fantastic production of Jerry Springer the Opera continues through March 28, 2015.

Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

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