- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Had Wagner been born in a trailer park as the product of a union between a pole dancer and a devil-worshipping midget wrestler, he would have composed “Jerry Springer: The Opera.”

This British import, which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before enjoying a sold-out run in London’s West End, actually manages to be more tawdry than the talk show itself - and that’s saying something. Here, profanity is not a verbal bomb, but a way of life, and everything is set to a mock-opera score that would not sound incongruous at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The subject matter, on the other hand, is totally prurient.

Directed by Keith Alan Baker, Studio Theatre’s 2nd Stage production of “Jerry Springer” is trashy entertainment of the lowest caliber. That is not to say the high-energy, blasphemous show should be avoided. Quite the contrary, because the nervy cast is exceptional, and it’s not every day you see tap-dancing Ku Klux Klansmen. Just know before you go that the sleaze bar is set pretty high.

The sung-through opera uses hyperdramatic arias, musical-theater homages and pop-culture references to explore our mania for grabbing 15 minutes of fame. In the first act, Jerry Springer’s (Lawrence Redmond) guests go to obscene lengths for their “Jerry Springer moment,” and their antics result in an accidental murder. Act 2 finds Jerry in hell, where Satan (Bobby Smith, stylish and slinky as the devil) stages a showdown between him and Jesus (a diaper-clad Ron Curameng). Jerry’s task is to reunite heaven and hell - which he attempts during one of his trademark “Final Thoughts” speeches - or risk eternal damnation.

The first act races along with coarse, raucous energy as the guests of the “Guilty Secrets” segment air their colorful transgressions, and one of the more chaste lyrics has the ensemble belting out “My mom used to be my dad/Snip, snip!”

It is more scatological than a middle school sleepover, but the cast treats the material as if it’s the Ring Cycle. Standouts include the exceptionally brave and dulcet-toned Mr. Curameng, stentorian-voiced Michael Nansel as a three-timing jerk in the first act and the Creator in the second, the graceful Aaron Reeder as a transvestite dripping with attitude, and the always delightful Florrie Bagel - who is both infantile and commanding in the unsettling role of Baby Jane. Mr. Redmond adeptly captures the poker-faced solemnity of the talk-show host, but unfortunately, he does not sing.

To keep up that level of sordidness takes artistry, and the sinfulness in “Jerry Springer” becomes strained in the second half. By the time a phalanx of hoofing Springer look-alikes executes a Broadway-style encore number, you’ll long to be autoclaved and sent home.

★★★

WHAT: “Jerry Springer: The Opera,” music by Richard Thomas, book and lyrics by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas

WHERE: Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 17.

TICKETS: $39

PHONE: 202/332-3300

WEB SITE: www.studiotheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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