Friday 8 February 2013

Jerry Springer The Opera

Electric Theatre, Guildford


Music and lyrics by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee

Directed by Charlotte Conquest

Chris Keily and Kim Strommen
( photo Mark Dean)
Jerry Springer The Opera is this term’s offering from the Year Three students of the BA Musical Theatre course at Guildford School of Acting. It being 10 years since Hecuba last saw the show, in preview at London’s National Theatre, its return to Guildford’s Electric Theatre proved an irresistible temptation to slip off down the M25 to re-discover some guilty secrets.

The structure of the musical may be well known but to recap, act one is a typical day in the life of the Jerry Springer show, with freaks and misfits bearing all under Springer’s provocative probing. There is a denouement to the act (that shall not be spoiled here) leading to a second half in which Jerry is called upon to settle divine/diabolic (take your own point of view) disagreement between a trinity of God, Satan and Jesus.

In some ways the show is ideal for a large troupe, requiring a chorus of “audience” in act one, and of "celestial or infernal beings" in act two, so that in addition to the principal roles this is a show that offers much for an ensemble to get their teeth into.

Some of the casting was spot on, some not so. It will probably always be difficult for a young cast to convincingly play such a collection of adult perverts, but in a show that was broadly fun to watch, there were nonetheless a number of exceptional performances where an individual’s acting/singing/dancing was confident and convincing. The chrous/ensemble also threw up some cracking cameos during the evening, that leads one to wonder whether, for some characters (typically those not mentioned in this review,) the right casting decision from amongst this 29 strong cohort had been made. Anyway, this being a student production, the opinions of this review will be restricted to praise only. For these hard working undergrads it’s a tough enough gig starting out on the boards without drawing subjective and opinionated “flack from a hack”  before even graduating.

Chris Kiely played Springer, a man thrice his age and a global media phenomenon, so for any young actor to portray such an icon is a huge challenge. Act one saw Kielty gaining in credibility, even if some of his opening interviewing approaches were a little cautious. Post interval however, in conducting debate between the divine and the damned caught up in a world that is literally fantastic and imaginary, he exuded confidence and talent and was frequently very funny.

Kim Strommen, a native Norwegian was Jerry’s foil throughout the show as Warm Up Man / Satan. Strommen relished his role and ably grasped some of the very challenging melodies written for his characters. Deliciously nasty throughout, he sported his Satan suit wonderfully and cleverly delivered the complex blend of evil and frustrated petulance that Thomas and Lee penned for his character.

Sam Robinson played Steve Wilkos , chief bouncer on the TV show. He was brilliant – A physical presence on stage throughout the first halr, with movement, timing and acting that was pin-pointedly precise. Humour depends upon timing and Robinson’s contribution to the success of the show is significant.

Molly Stewart and Nick Martland were Shawntel and Chucky, a couple made up of desperate housewife married to a mysoginist redneck. Stewart’s vocal and dancing talents were perfectly cast catching Shawntel's complex misery with a perception that belied her years. Martland was a chillingly convincing ignoramus, deliberately underplaying his abusive racist character and with an impressively confident voice.

Emilie Fleming, a BBC Dorothy finalist, lived up to her pedigree. Her Baby Jane was amusing in the first half and harrowing in the second with Fleming giving a performance that combined talent with considerable understated maturity from such a young actress, whilst Christina Bennington’s Peaches and Jo-anne van Steensel’s deliciously decadent Zandra were also  women whose stories one wanted to hear.

Charlotte Conquest directed with imagination, her TV experience manifest in the intelligent but non-gimmicky way, in which the “broadcast” aspect of the first act was managed, though one could question her casting decisions.  The movement and choreography of the piece were well conceived, whilst Niall Bailey’s professional band kept a perfect pitch and tempo to the night’s proceedings.

All in all a grand night out from a promising bunch of talent, shortly to be unleashed upon the professional world.

Runs until February 9 2013

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