A lot’s been said—and written—about Studio’s Jerry Springer: The Opera. The musical closes a week from Sunday, having been extended twice, so by now you’ve heard about its gimmick: lavishing upon The Jerry Springer Show’s sundry lowbrow elements (fornication and feces, fistfights and “fuck you”s) an incongruously highbrow operatic gloss. You’ve heard about its gleeful, and thus ultimately kinda sweet, embrace of the profane, with characters not so much dropping individual f-bombs as blanketing the Metheny Theatre stage with an unrelenting fusillade of bunker-busting vulgarity. You’ve heard—I hope you have—about the study in paraphilic infantilism cheerily offered up by actor Ron Curameng, certainly the most fearless performance I’ve seen on a D.C. stage this or any year, and one of the funniest.
What you’ve heard less about is the decision by directors Keith Alan Baker and Matthew Gardiner to move the show’s 18-member studio audience/chorus off the stage (where the London production placed it) and into the seats of the Metheny. But that choice is important. Look, it’s a good bet that any show wallowing in so much go-for-broke, toe-tappin’ sleaze is at the very least going to be fun, but there’s no guarantee it’ll be interesting. Studio’s production is both, because by sprinkling the chorus throughout the small house, Baker and Gardiner place us inside the world of the piece from the very start. We’re enmeshed, even implicated, in the show’s sheer, over-the-top theatricality (the oft-mentioned tap-dancing Klansmen, for example), so all that show-biz artifice becomes something more than just another Producers gag. It’s the means by which the show comments on itself, on television, and, believe it or not, on class in America.
Plus, when it’s all over, you step out onto 14th Street NW chanting, “Three-nipple cousin-fucker/three-nipple cousin-fucker/three-nipple cousin-fucker” along with your seatmates. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a basic element of theater that Aristotle just never got around to mentioning.