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Springer and its discontents.

Jerry Springer-The Opera opened triumphantly at the Royal National Theatre in London on April 29, 2003. The reviews were rhapsodic, and the production played to sold-out houses for five months. In November '03, JSTO transferred to the West End, where its commercial run continued until February '05. Prizes proliferated, including best new musical honors from the evening standard Theatre Awards, the Critics circle Theatre Awards and, most prestigiously, the Olivier Awards.

Broadway seemed the inevitable next stop, in part because there was no doubt about how the eventual make-or-break review in the New York Times would read. Ben Brantley had already referred to it as a "four-alarm fire of a show" possessing "the power to exhilarate that you associate with old-style Broadway musicals". This is the sort of praise that normally generates bidding wars among Broadway producers. Accordingly, the show's London backers announced plans for an October '05 Broadwat production.

Why then was JSTO not performed in this country until May of this year? And why was its U.S. premiere at Baillwick repertory Theatre, a small non-Equity theatre in Chicago? An evangelical group in the U.K. called Christian Voice could well have had something to do with it. When a tour to 20 regional theatres across Britain was announced in 2005, Christian Voice threatened to picket any organization that presented the musical. About one third of the theatres that had originally signed on backed out in response to these noisy harangues, and the tour was postponed for months. The show's opponents were even more vocal when a videotaped version of JSTO was broadcast on BBC Two earlier that year. At the urging of Christian Voice and other groups, some 50,000 complaints poured in to the BBC--the largest number ever received in advance of a U.K. telecast.

A representative of the company that owns JSTO's copyright recently told Back Stage that budgets, not protests, delayed that show's Broadway debut. But given that the religious Right is infinitely more powerful in the U.S. than in the U.K., how could these protests not give pause to potential Broadway investors? And if JSTO is unlikely to appear on Broadway any time soon, the video version of the production is even less likely to show up on PBS. One could well imagine the Rev. Jerry Falwell (who died the same week JSTO opened in Chicago) rising from the grave to denounce it. --Copeland

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Title Annotation:Jerry Springer-The Opera
Publication:American Theatre
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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