If one could imagine the most unlikely Carnegie Hall sensation ever, "Jerry Springer: The Opera" might be it. Aren't operas supposed to deal with grand, historical themes, with everyone singing in Italian? This "opera" is about a tabloid TV freak show - and wouldn't you know it - the critics love it.
When the Springer Opera debuted in January, The New York Times hailed it with the headline "And Blessed Are the Singing, Pole-Dancing Fetishists." When it recently debuted in D.C., Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks was ecstatic. In his July 29 review, he asked: "How low can you sink and still achieve nirvana?" He lauded the show as a "thrillingly down-and-dirty production" with a "no-holds-barred sense of wickedness."
The show's positively stuffed with profanity, which is spewed in "angelic-sounding arias," and "the enunciation of a monosyllabic barnyard epithet is stretched hilariously over several minutes of music." Marks was swooning over all the swearing: "It takes the restraints off whatever meager amount of modesty the FCC requires and turns Springer's program into an even more turbulent cesspool of the most outrageous acts and vilest types of language." The review concludes: "Vulgarity is raised to a lively art."
The show is a British import, and just when you think American television is that turbulent cesspool, it's demonstrated that things could be worse. The BBC actually aired "Jerry Springer: The Opera" in prime time, at 10 pm. BBC director-general Mark Thompson objected when one newspaper counted the number of swear words and multiplied by the number of cast members who proclaimed them, and came up with 8,000. Thompson claimed the profanity wasn't offensive because it symbolized the "moral and linguistic poverty" of Springer's universe. "It certainly didn't feel gratuitous."
So 8,000 swear words in one performance isn't gratuitous. What else does our Washington Post theater critic like? Marks reported on the second act: "The holiest concepts and figures in Christian theology come in for the same level of scathing lampoon as do the more routine sorts of visitors to Jerry's set...An air of glib, giggly impiety - of an adolescent urge to see just how much it can get away with - is more clearly evident here." Jesus and Satan squabble like potty-mouthed siblings, and God shows up to complain how difficult it is to be God.
That's as direct as the Post review gets. The Catholic League offered more detail from a DVD of the Springer opera. This is a partial list:
1. Springer is shot by accident by Ku Klux Klansmen dancing around a burning cross, and he's then transported to Hell to do a Springer show. A disclaimer is shown that reads in part, "It may not be suitable for viewers without a strong grasp of Judeo-Christian mythology."
2. Jerry reads one of Satan's cue cards to introduce the next guest. Jerry hesitatingly reads that the guest is, "The hypocrite son of the fascist tyrant on high, Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus is fat, effeminate, and wearing a diaper.
3. Satan sings, "So he turned the water into wine, oooh! So he walked across the freaking seas, oooh! So you got yourself crucified. Here's a little biscuit from me." Satan holds up an off-white cookie that resembles the Eucharist. Jesus then grabs the biscuit from Satan and holds it above his head before throwing it down as he sings: "I am Jesus, son of man, son of Mary, son of God. So do not, do not, do not f-- with me. I do not want your biscuit. I want your love and your respect, for I am love and I love all mankind."
4. The chorus then sings, "Jesus is gay, Jesus is gay." Jesus yells at the choir to stop, but then admits, "Actually, I am a bit gay."
5. Eve sings to Jesus that she shouldn't have been cast out of the garden for one simple mistake. Jesus responds that Eve had her chance, and she blew it.
6. Eve reaches under Christ's diaper and fondles his genitals. Jesus sings that he was crucified and Eve didn't even care. Eve and Jesus continue arguing and come to physical blows.
7. Springer introduces Mary, and the choir sings, "Raped by an angel, raped by an angel, raped by an angel, raped by God!" The Blessed Mother enters. She is angry and pointing at Jesus. She sings a song to him asking things like, "Where were you when I was getting old? Where were you when the children cried?" Satan sings back, "Jesus wasn't there. He didn't care."
This spectacle's defenders suggest this isn't a mockery of Christianity. "This production is a parody, with tongue firmly in cheek," opera director Keith Alan Baker told the Post. "No disrespect is intended."
That's about as plausible as a Klansman saying the burning cross is merely for roasting marshmallows.