Jerry Springer: The Opera, Cambridge Theatre, London

Get your arias out of here

The near-universal praise for Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee's show when it opened at the National last April may have built up expectations to an unreasonable height. But I think that, even without them, I would have been left as cold as I was when the interval lights came on. Where was the devastating satire? I was numb from being beaten over the head with the same joke.

That joke, of course, is setting the filthy and vicious language of the geeks and freaks on Jerry Springer's TV confession show to high-flown music. With straight faces and soaring voices, the audience and guests sing of sexual peculiarities that range from risible to repulsive - one man has cheated on his fiancée with her best friend and a transvestite; another soulfully praises defecation as a means of self-determination, though he doesn't put it quite that way.

We're invited to laugh at the stupidity and hypocrisy of the congregants in the great revivalist church of television, at the way they assuage their frustration and self-loathing by excoriating those just a bit lower on the social ladder. Yet is it any less hypocritical of the theatre patrons to be laughing at the lowlife television-show audience? "Irony" seems too glib a defence.

The music of Jerry Springer may evoke Wagner and Bach, but at least as strong an influence is exerted by American musicals of the Fifties. Imagine one of the anguished, yearning singers with a Broadway rather than a Covent Garden voice, and you can recognise a tune hardly different from one in The Sound of Music or West Side Story. Guying their wholesomeness at this point is flogging a dead horse - one of the few erotic perversities not explored here.

In the second half, the show becomes more daring and far more interesting. It's not the sex that will give this show problems in America but the characterisations of God as a lonely guy, Jesus as a gay black man, and Mary as a Jewish mother furious at a son who has the crazy idea of redeeming mankind rather than looking after her in her old age. On a fire-bombed set, Jerry, now in hell, must preside over a chat show on which Satan airs his grievance with the higher powers.

The music becomes more sophisticated, too, as we are asked whether Jerry provokes madness or simply holds a mirror up to nature. "That's right!" he shouts, Homer Simpson-like. "I do the mirror thing!" But neither the arguments nor the melodies are developed much beyond what is necessary for a flashy effect, and the ending, on a rare haunting line, grabs at an emotion that has not been earned.

I have no reservations, however, about the fabulous cast. Michael Brandon's Jerry, the one non-singing part, provides a comic counterpoint to the whole circus with his absurd unflappability on camera and his pointed brutality off it. The singers have gorgeous voices, enunciate the scabrous lyrics only too well and throw themselves into their roles with ferocious vivacity, especially David Bedella, whose Satan is a kind of surly Latin gigolo with a hint of Cab Calloway.

Booking to 27 March (020-7494 5080)

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week