Generating considerable protest when it opened in England because of portraying God and Jesus as using the “f” word as guests on the Springer show, the protests ironically only served to generate ticket sales and interest in a work that might well have otherwise gone unnoticed. Its producers have been trying to mount a New York production for years, but religious ridicule as a rule is outside the boundaries of tourist-friendly Broadway. And so, Bailiwick Repertory, the Chicago theater group best known for its all naked male musical revues, is culminating its twenty-fifth-anniversary season with the high-profile North American premiere of this very British import that calls cookies biscuits and just happens to be set in Chicago, drawing the city and the American Midwest at large in exaggerated caricature with Anglophile elitism and ridicule. The one-trick pony gimmick, of course, is to cross-fertilize the lowest of lowbrow culture—a.k.a. the Springer show itsel—with the most highfalutin and highbrow of all art forms, grand opera. And the joke does work well when the guests who have trained voices sing their bizarre stories with great seriousness as if they were true operatic arias. But several of the voices are not trained, and their attempt to emulate an operatic voice comes across more like nails on a blackboard caterwauling more than legitimate singing. Ironically, Springer himself never sings a note, and the “studio” audience functions as an anti-Greek chorus that comments on the action in the style of wonderfully balanced Anglican anthems, which the ensemble has learned to sing with considerable balance and crisp diction (making this much more like “Jerry Springer: The Oratorio.”) When Springer is shot and goes to hell—a premise that seems to suggest that Springer might actually be held accountable for his shamelessly exploitative exhibitionism—the show goes with it, as the host is made to reconcile Satan and Jesus with cameos from God and even Mary, who is greeted with beautifully harmonized cries of “Raped by an angel, raped by God”— actually one of the second act’s more reverent moments. Sure, taking potshots at religious icons can be funny if done cleverly and with a point (“Life of Brian,” for instance), but this is blasé blasphemy and numinous name-calling for its own sake, true trash-talking Transcendence. And just as Springer begins to feel some responsibility, the chorus beseeches him to keep giving a voice to the voiceless, the “Faust” redemption finale, in reverse, of course, complete with cries of “Jerry, eleison,” though there is no mercy to be had for the audience.
This production is now closed.