Jerry Springer: The Opera - On the Rocks, St Andrews
- Anand Bhopal
- 23 April 2009
And so it began - amid protests and slander - as Jerry Springer the Opera hit St Andrews to unprecedented publicity. Curiosity drove people in record numbers to the Students' Union to see for themselves what the debacle was all about. Since the installation of the new Principle, Dr Louise Richardson, quaint St Andrews has transformed from a bubble of bops and ball gowns to an unlikely hive of activity and national debate. Despite criticism, this first ever licensed amateur production of the musical went ahead, and it has been performed to packed audiences. The controversy began from the start with the announcement of the spectacle as a "hilarious, if not slightly blasphemous" show. This got a few easy laughs, but surprisingly the show did not immediately go on in such a vein. A witty "Jerry, Jerry" song - laying down the ground rules for the show (no heckling etc.) - launched the chorus into a powerful full flow from the outset.
The first act was unrelenting, barely giving the audience time to breathe, never mind clap for the impressive solos and comedy interspersed throughout. In that famous Jerry Springer style, scene after scene saw unhappy couples come onto the stage. As the act progressed, the disapprovers sat in the audience had little to heckle over. The humour was simply crude rather than offensive. Jerry’s guests included an amusing mix: Diaper Man who wanted to be a baby, Dwight who found himself cheating on his wife-to-be (with both another woman AND another man), and Chantelle who just wanted to fulfil her dream of pole dancing. However, an appearance of the Ku Klux Klan and a burning cross at the end of the first half signalled a shift in tone.
And shift it did. The second half brought clever character transformations which saw the constantly referred to ‘warm up guy’ become Satan and ‘Diaper Man’ Montel morph into Jesus in a loincloth. Jerry Springer was back doing his talk show once more, but this time it was dark, and not on his terms. Use of the under stage hatch saw Satan emerge from a red mist and call upon Jerry Springer to present another show and force Jesus into apology. Jerry’s exasperated "I don’t solve problems, I just televise them" brilliantly parodied the stance of modern 'current affairs' reporting, perhaps suggesting that television, like everyone, has responsibilities. The dark-turned chorus rather nonchalantly welcomed onto stage the characters: God - as a rapist, Jesus - as camp, and Eve - as a whore. Interestingly however, songs like God’s soliloquy ‘It Ain’t Easy Being Me’ went down far better than this irreverent spiel.
In an increasingly secular society, Christianity is an easy target for any comedy. There are questions to be asked: Did it improve the show? Was it necessary? Well, it was controversial, and it was this controversy that ultimately drew in the audience. Though it had funny moments, Jerry Springer the Opera was simply bad taste epitomised - crude, offensive, sacrilegious. All this said, high praise must go to director John MacLean for a very impressive production. The controversy is indisputable, but it has done wonders for exposure of St Andrews student theatre. Credit to the cast - the acting was good, the orchestra was excellent, and some of the singing was quite simply superb.