“Jerry Springer — The Opera,” the rude and often raucous British musical take on American tabloid television, got two thumbs up from the real Jerry Springer, who called the West End show, “phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.” Springer spoke at Monday’s lavish party following the commercial bow of the $4.2 million musical, which premiered in April at the state-funded National Theatre to rave reviews.
The Chicago talk-show host never saw the National’s incarnation of creators Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee’s musical collaboration, with its tap-dancing Ku Klux Klansmen, wildly foul language and extravagant parade of lowlifes, addicts and miscreants.
But the 59-year-old Springer did catch director Lee’s production twice within four days at the Cambridge Theatre, where top tickets are a steep $83.50 — which is high for London.
After the opening, the producers gave an elegant party at the Banqueting House in Whitehall, with revelers sipping champagne beneath a 17th-century Rubens ceiling. Guests included “American Idol” villain Simon Cowell and comic Tracy Ullman.
Springer spoke at the party about his admiration for the show, but distanced himself from the Jerry portrayed in it.
“It’s a persona, and they did it remarkably well,” he said. “As an opera, it’s perfect.”
But he drew a distinction between American performer Michael Brandon’s deliberately confused stage Jerry, who is shot at the end of the first act and later dragged down to hell, and the real Springer’s far more confident self.
“I’m not confused at all; I’m very clear,” said Springer. “That doesn’t mean I’m right, but I know what my position is.”
At the opening night curtain call, Springer joined Brandon on stage following the second of two lengthy standing ovations. Instead of a speech, he offered the simple words, “I’m sorry,” as the audience cheered.
“I didn’t know what to do,” said Springer. “I just wanted to say, I really admired what they had done.”
In an interview, Brandon said he was far more nervous on Friday, when Springer saw the finished musical for the first time. The show’s subject had seen an embryonic version of the show several summers ago at the Edinburgh Festival which Brandon was not in.
“That’s the night I was really dancing on the edge, because (Jerry) is my truest critic.”
On Tuesday, British critics renewed their affection for the musical, although in somewhat more muted tones. “No one in contemporary English theater has mixed a more revolutionary musical cocktail,” wrote The Evening Standard’s Nicholas de Jongh.
But The Guardian’s Maddy Costa said, “It’s hard not to wonder who this show is aimed at. ... The humor is so relentlessly puerile.”
Producers hope to take the show to Broadway next fall in a staging that could cost as much $13.5 million.