When I first saw Jerry Springer – The Opera in London 15 years ago, I was blown away.
In a world of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, it really stood out. It threw away the rule book and made some new ones.
Since then, I have seen it a four more times on tour and it remains one of my favourite shows.
But as much I was looking forward to seeing Northern Ricochet’s revival at Hope Mill, there were two key questions as I entered the theatre: is it still relevant and would this production be as good?
If you have not seen it before, the set-up is that we are watching The Jerry Springer Show (remember it?) as guests ‘fess up’ to their desires and indiscretions, as the studio audience shout abuse at them.
Essentially, you are sat in the bear pit and sitting in judgement alongside the ‘audience’ baying for blood or salacious gossip about these TV misfits.
The twist as the title suggests is that this is sung in the style of an opera. This means that you end up laughing through your hands because it is incredibly sweary and close to the bone but sung in a posh accent.
Matt Bond’s Dwight has been seeing someone else so his girlfriend sits on edge in the studio to find out who this is. It turns out this philanderer has been rather partial to a two-for-one offer. When he sings the lines “I’ve been seeing someone else” for the second time, he means it. Bond’s vocal ability is music to the ears and a joy to hear in such a small space.
Montel (played with real swagger and with the comic delivery of Alan Cumming by the brilliant David Burilin) wants to be his partner’s baby. She smiles along misunderstanding the term until it dawns on her that he is wearing a nappy and wants to call her mama.
Finally, Shawntel (step up Cici Howells whose vocals lift the roof off) just wants to effing dance, and the audience respond by referring to her as ‘strip slut.’
Overseeing these events and whipping the TV audience into a frenzy is the warm-up man played by the brilliant Tom Lloyd, who has the devil in him.
This may sound like a show designed to shock and very little else, but like The Book of Mormon, there is something clever and refreshing at play here.
Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee first staged this show at the Edinburgh Fringe and it went on to play in the West End. Here, at the Hope Mill, their wonderful lyrics and arrangements can be heard in such crystal-clear fashion that you pick up every beautifully ugly line.
I Just Wanna Dance is a heart-breaking tale of a woman wanting to live out her dream. But with the addition of swear words, we hear her desperation and Howells delivers this with real clarity.
Likewise, This is My Jerry Springer Moment is incredibly hummable but also a song about five minutes of fame and how these guests are pawns being played and moved around by producers and audiences for your entertainment.
Throw in the Ku Klax Klan singing sections of the song and it becomes anarchic and toe curlingly brilliant, just like Springtime for Hitler from The Producers.
Director James Baker has chosen to have a Jerry Springer choir and the small stage feels a tad cramped to begin with. But once the narrative kicks in, you realise this is an inspired choice. They become like a Greek chorus, mocking from the sidelines, alongside actors playing the studio audience and numerous other parts.
The second half of this brilliant show is set in hell and drags slightly compared with the energetic and genre busting first act, but something truly stunning remains.
It doesn’t shock quite as much as it once did because the world has changed in the last 15 years, but with Love Island being watched by millions of voyeurs and people confessing private information to all on social media, Jerry Springer the Opera still has something relevant to say.
The entire cast is flawless, with Michael Howe’s ringmaster Jerry leading from the front, surrounded by the most incredible vocalists I have seen on stage for some time.
Emily Chesterton as Peaches and Baby transforms before your eyes and conveys such sublime versatility, it hurts.
Get your skates on and get to Ancoats as soon as you can to have your Jerry Springer moment. And in the words of Jerry himself, “Take care”.
Jerry Springer – The Opera is at Hope Mill Theatre until 31st August.