The fall and fightback of Wills the Jerry Springer opera singer
Monday 07 December 2009
With its cast of dancing Klu Klux Klan members and its unashamedly irreverent take on Christianity, Jerry Springer: The Opera was one of the most successful and controversial musicals to hit the West End in the past 10 years.
Critics praised it, fans queued round the block for it and everywhere the show toured a small but angry troupe of protesting Christian fundamentalists ensured that the public furore surrounding the show continued to roll with it.
But for one of the cast members the constant haranguing by the Christian right helped contribute towards a breakdown that led to him sleeping rough on the streets on London.
Wills Morgan, a classically trained opera singer who rose to fame playing one of the show’s particularly bizarre characters (a promiscuous adult who liked to wear nappies), has revealed how he spent two months sleeping on a canal footpath after a series of crises that began with regularly confronting Christian protestors and ended with the death of his mother from cancer.
His personal problems began with the nightly verbal duels he felt he had to fight with those opposed to the show. And when the Olivier Award winning production wound up in late 2006, future projects dried up and the 49-year-old tenor was forced out of his house.
During his lowest ebb last year the professional singer from north London took to sleeping by the Grand Union Canal before friends and local charities helped him back into regular accommodation.
Now busily preparing for a string of recitals in the Ohio, where he trained after attending the Royal College of Music, Mr Morgan is being touted by charities as a heart-warming example of how people can get themselves back into accommodation.
“I guess my story shows how anyone, from any walk of life, can end up homeless – particularly during the recession which has forced so many people out of work,” he said. “But the flip side is that there is help out there if you’re willing to ask for it.”
The road back to recovery has been a long one but thanks to Brent Mind, a north London-based mental health charity, and local housing groups, the singer has managed to secure himself a one bedroom flat.
Bob Butler, of Genesis Housing Group, which helps vulnerable people find accommodation, admitted it was not every day that he would come across a homeless opera singer. “[He is] one of my more unusual clients,” he said. “When [Wills] came to me, he had been traumatised by Jerry Springer and then his mother died. His life fell apart. [But] he is definitely one of my success stories.”
The regular protests that greeted the Jerry Springer opera may have helped keep the public’s interest in it alive but it soon took its toll on cast members. Mr Morgan, who is himself a committed Christian, felt compelled to confront the protestors which became an exhausting nightly process.
“As a man of faith I had to challenge them because they were claiming an ownership of God that was inappropriate,” he said. “The fundamentalists just couldn't understand that members of the cast were also active members of churches.”
What upset him the most, he said was that the protestors had seemed to miss the opera’s real message. “Most of the protestors never bothered coming to see the production and had decided from the word go that it was somehow blasphemous,” he said. “Yet whenever people asked me what Jerry Springer: The Opera was about I said it was very simple. It is an opera about how awful television could be, not an assault on faith.”
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