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 them 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: