Broadway gamble for hard-hitting Springer musical

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The Independent Culture

When the quirky opera featuring a man in a nappy and a tap dance routine by the Ku Klux Klan was first staged at a small theatre in south London, its creator could never have guessed that it would be an international hit.

When the quirky opera featuring a man in a nappy and a tap dance routine by the Ku Klux Klan was first staged at a small theatre in south London, its creator could never have guessed that it would be an international hit.

But yesterday Jerry Springer - The Opera announced its debut on Broadway after a transition to the West End in London via the National Theatre.

With a cupboard full of awards, the sharp, sardonic deconstruction of chat show life is already a hit in the UK. Yesterday the company announced that the production was hoping to master the notoriously difficult American market.

Such is its reputation that a host of Hollywood notables - including Harvey Keitel and Kevin Kline - are keen to play the lead role and Springer himself might be in the running.

The musical is due to open in New York in October 2005 after a six-week run in San Francisco. Jon Thoday, the producer, admitted that opening a show in the United States which features blasphemy and bad language was a gamble. He said: "Either it will be the most enormous hit or audiences will walk out in horror.

"Americans who come over to see the show in London absolutely love it so we are hoping it will get the same response over there. Television shows like South Park have been a hit in the States and that gives us heart because we occupy the same kind of territory."

It is certainly an achievement for a production that started life at the Battersea Arts Centre four years ago as part of a scheme to allow new theatre companies to show works in progress under the tutelage of Tom Morris, who was then the artistic director. Jerry Springer - The Opera later followed him to the National Theatre, where, under the director Nicholas Hytner, it officially premiered in April 2003 before moving to the Cambridge Theatre last November.

Unconventional and witty, the musical is based on Springer's lurid talk show, which brought viewers episodes such as "Pregnant by a Transsexual" and "I Married a Horse".

Richard Thomas, who wrote the opera, said: "It's got tragedy. It's got violence. There are people screaming at each other and you can't understand what they're saying. It's perfect for opera."

Yesterday a source said the musical would continue to play in the West End, with Michael Brandon, who starred in the television series Dempsey and Makepeace, in the title role.

The source said: "It is possible that Michael will switch between the two productions, but we have had a lot of interest from big Hollywood stars so our options are open. Harvey Keitel and Kevin Kline have both been to see the show and loved it and either one would make a great Jerry Springer.

"Jerry himself has said in the past he would be interested in the part, but he has his chat show commitments and political aspirations to juggle too, so it may not be possible."

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