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Performances

Jessica Coker as Shawntel [Photo by Ben Krantz Studio]
24 Oct 2010

Jerry Springer, The Opera in San Francisco

The fall opera season in San Francisco has been dealt a wild card — Jerry Springer, The Opera! Not exactly material for SF’s august opera company . . .

Richard Thomas: Jerry Springer, The Opera

Jerry: Patrick Michael Dukeman; Steve: Wilkos Keith Haddock; Security: Bill Tankovich, Tom Farris, Tracy Camp; Baby Jane: Rebecca Pingree; Shawntel/Eve: Jessica Coker; Zandra/Irene Mary: Jordan Best; Andrea/Archangel: Mia Fryvecind; Jonathan/Satan: Jonathan Reisfeld; Dwight/God: Steve Hess; Montel/Jesus: Manuel Caneri; Tremont: Timitio Artusio; Valkyrie: J. Conrad Frank. Stage Director: M. Graham Smith. Music Director: Ben Prince. Choreogroapher: Chris Black. Scenic Desigh: Maya Linke. Costume Design: Margaret Shitaker. Lighting Design: Dustin Snyder. Sound Design: Sound Productions.

Above: Jessica Coker as Shawntel [Photo by Ben Krantz Studio]

 

but just right for SF’s Ray of Light Theatre!

This charming piece was once famous for its shock and disgust value. These days these values are little more than innocent subject matter for a shock and disgust theater genre. How riled up can you get when the little biscuit that is the symbolic body of Christ is thrown onto the floor, or Jesus is told to put his f***ing clothes back on, or for that matter witnessing God beg Jerry for his guidance? Plus the ca ca doo doo pee pee factor is non-stop as is every sexual proclivity you can imagine and then some, not to forget the swell of awe one felt when Jerry threw the Gettysburg Address into the general blasphemy.

All this is old hat, and was old hat even before Jerry Springer, The Opera took London by storm back in 2003, and entered the British cultural mainstream in 2006 through a kingdom-wide BBC telecast. Jerry Springer, The Opera is very British, our chic British cousins finding no one more appropriate for making fun of than us Americans. It is true, we are open and we let it all hang out (well, we don’t have a queen to look up to as an example of discretion).

It is very well made theater, operatic in theme — infidelity and forgiveness with a big dose of revenge. It is operatic in structure with an earthy exposition (see above) that thrusts the wounded Jerry (he was shot) into a hospital purgatory. It culminates in heaven (which serves also as hell) where Jerry’s death is truly operatic, i.e. too long and utterly implausible that anyone so close to death has so much breath. [N.B. the real Jerry Springer is still on the air.]

It is well made music, its structures and harmonies complex in the extensive choruses. The huge ensembles were crowned by above-the-staff voices, the duets were bona fide Baroque contests, the extensive vocal ornamentation was dramatically motivated, and the crooning was silken.

Not yet a repertory piece (only now does it have this U.S. west coast premiere) and it may never attain such status, such is the fate of the shock and disgust genre. It is however pointedly deserving of this status as it offers challenging roles for performers, from the spoken-only role of Jerry, the crooning of his nemesis, the Valkyrie voice of his conscience, the devotion of his goons, to the comic and quite complicated and delightfully wrecked humans beings whom only a Jerry can understand. Roles that could be developed in infinite levels of vocal and histrionic sophistication.

So how did Ray of Light Theatre fare with such material? Pretty f***ing well based on the resources of San Francisco’s equivalent of Off-Broadway. Patrick Michael Dukeman was a convincing, even moving Jerry Springer (though I confess I have never laid eyes on the real thing for comparison). The ensemble roles were thoughtfully cast and when finesse was lacking (often) it was compensated by volume. The twenty-six choristers executed their music with aplomb and infused a joie de vivre appropriate to responsive voyeurs.

The slick production was directed by M. Graham Smith and was moved along adroitly by music director Ben Prince. These gentlemen kept us on the edge of our seats for nearly three hours (though the program booklet warned us there would be an overly long intermission as an overflow of folks (300 plus) would need to piss [sic] in but two stalls).

Michael Milenski

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