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STL's New Line Theatre: Irreverent 'Jerry Springer' is offensive — yet thoughtful

Jerry, Keith Thompson, left, asks Montel, Marshall Jennings, right, why he's brought Andrea, Christina Rios, to the show.
Jill Ritter Lindberg

Adults with diaper fetishes, dancing Klansmen and blasphemous portrayals of religious figures are all part of “Jerry Springer: The Opera.” So it's fitting, really, that edgy New Line Theatre is the company bringing this irreverent musical to St. Louis.

New Line calls itself the “bad boy” of musical theater. But this show is the “baddest” of them all, according to Scott Miller, the theater's artistic director.

“Every obscenity I’ve ever heard is in this show,” Miller said. “This is absolutely the most offensive thing we’ve ever done.”

It begins with a scene from a typical Jerry Springer talk show. A guest is cheating on his woman. He’s also cheating on the woman he’s cheating with. Same old, same old, right? Except Jerry’s the only one talking. The others are singing their sorrows in operatic fashion.

After the appearance of a few more guests including diaper guy, a gunshot moves the opera to a place that seems to spring from the mind of 14th-century writer Dante Alighieri.

“In Act Two, Jerry goes to Hell, and he does a ‘Springer’ show in Hell,” Miller said.

"Cityscape": Scott Miller and Keith Thompson (carefully) talk about "Jerry Springer: The Opera."

More than shock value

The crass language of “Jerry Springer” is in stark contrast with the beauty of the operatic score, according to Miller. But opera is the perfect genre for this story, he said.

“The lives of the people on the real ‘Springer’ show are operatic,” Miller said. “The emotions are big and the stakes are very high."

Actor Keith Thompson plays Springer. The cast includes also opera singers who’ve never done a New Line show before, as well as many of the theater company’s usual suspects including Zachary Allen Farmer, Ryan Foizey, Taylor Pietz and Anna Skidis.

The cast has melded over the difficult music and bawdy lyrics. But is St. Louis ready for such an irreverent show? Miller said he expects some walk-outs, but that's about it.

The 2005 debut of “Springer” in London was met with great protest. But after the issue went to court, British lawmakers ruled in 2007 that the show was not, in fact, blasphemous.

Plus, most people know what to expect from New Line, Miller said. And society is changing. Musical theater, television and the world in general are getting used to rougher language, he said. After all, St. Louis has already flocked to the once-controversial “Book of Mormon,” a wonderful romp, according to Miller.

Scott Miller
Credit Joan Hildebrand Zobel
Scott Miller

But “Springer” has more than shock value. It has depth, Miller said, redeeming itself in many ways.

“The show … has a debate about what is ‘Jerry Springer,’ and is it good or bad, and what does it contribute to us or take from us,” Miller said. “It kind of grapples with those questions and doesn’t come down on one side or the other.”

Sounds like heady stuff. Even so, Miller has no illusions about the show’s primary goal.

“The main purpose is to really have a blast,” Miller said. “It’s really incredibly silly and funny.”


“Jerry Springer the Opera” by New Line Theatre

When: Thursday-Saturday, March 5-28

Where: Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Rd., 63117

How much: $20 general; $15 educators; $10 seniors, students

Tickets: Metrotix website

Information: New Line website

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.