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Jerry Springer: The Opera

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It is alleged to contain 8,000 obscenities. According to both the Daily Mail and The Sun newspapers, the “f” word alone is uttered more than 3,100 times. It is scatological and theological. It is irreverent, profane, ridiculous, and entirely unlikely. It features Ku Klux Klansmen tap dancing and Jesus Christ clad in diapers. What is it? It’s Jerry Springer: The Opera, and it has arrived at The OC’s edgy Chance Theater for its Southern California premiere (through August 7).

The British musical, written by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas, is inspired by the lurid and long-running television show hosted by that former mayor of Cincinnati, Jerry Springer. In a bizarrely creative effort to blend high art and low culture, Lee and Thomas have scored over forty compositions here, and with titles such as “Mama Gimme Smack on the Ass….” and “Every Last Motherf..... Should Go Down.”Tthis certainly is not a Caruso or Pavarotti appropriate opera; it’s also not for everyone (adults only, and only some adults will take to Springer).

Under Trevor Bishop’s crisp direction and Kelly Todd’s dynamic choreography—as well as Mike Wilkins’s kinetic orchestral direction—Jerry Springer: The Opera, not unlike the Springer TV show, is loud, lewd, and literally in-the-audience. That is, the ensemble members , after several rousingly rancorous song and dance routines (including “Overtly-ture,” “Audience Very Pleasing,” and “Ladies and Gentlemen”) take their seats among theatergoers, regularly jumping in to sing and shout about the laurels and liabilities of Jerry and his unsavory guests.

As with the sordid boob-tube staple, Jerry Springer: The Opera shows guests blind-sided by the revelations of their beloveds. In one instance, striptease wannabe, Shantell (a sassy, shapely Jessie Withers), confesses her pole-dancing aspirations not only to Jerry Springer (Warren Draper, excelling in the staging’s only non-singing role) and the Springer audience, but also admits it to Chucky, her redneck, hot-tempered husband (a daring Kyle Cooper who, in Act Two, also plays first-man Adam—sporting only whitey-tidy briefs, cowboy boots, and a front-loaded fig leaf).

In another segment of the musical, a man, Montel (Jared Pugh, who also portrays Jesus Christ), declares to his fiancée, Andrea (Katie Kitani displaying fluid dance moves), that he wants to be her “baby.” It isn’t until Montel strips down to his big, baggy diaper that Andrea realizes that Montel is making a literal request. But, by the end of the dirty ditty, “Diaper Man,” Andrea is convinced of Montel’s need to be infantilized.

The second act descends into hates—ala Greek tragedy (a marvelous Hell-scape is created by scenic designer Caitlin Lainoff and lighting designer Brian S. Shevelenko).  And it is here that writers Lee and Thomas make it likely for their script to fumble while traversing the boards. Nevertheless, under the taut vision of the Chance’s production team, the underworld becomes a phantasmagorical spectacle, which—try as we might—is difficult to resist enjoying.

What’s more, Springer provides a showcase for impressive performances. In addition to the players already mentioned, excellent portrayals are mined from David Laffey (he’s a mean Satan), Jovani McCleary (with a baritone that supports his incarnation of God), Matthew Ballestero (as hefty cross-dresser, Tremont), Erika C. Miller (provocative as the bedeviled Baby Jane), and David McCormick (as Jerry’s agile chief-of-security).

While Jerry Springer’s TV program caters to a self-selecting audience, aware and inviting of what it’s likely to get from such a lowbrow freak-show, Jerry Springer: The Opera attendees may be caught off-guard by the sorry shenanigans. After reading this review, don’t claim that you weren’t warned. Jerry Springer: The Opera does hit the low notes.

Jerry Springer: The Opera continues at the Chance Theater—5552 East La Palma Avenue, Anaheim Hills—through August 7. Show times are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday performances are at 7 p.m. Matinees are at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, dial (714) 777-3033. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.chancetheater.com.


 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.