“So dip us in chocolate and throw us to the lesbians!” That’s my favorite lyric from Jerry Springer the Opera — and probably the only one I can quote in its entirety. Because the rest of the musical is just that filthy. The award-winning British import is currently playing a two-night concert stint, starring Harvey Keitel (pictured, with Linda Balgord) as the titular trashy talk-show host, at NYC’s Carnegie Hall — presumably in lieu of a previously announced then mysteriously scuttled Broadway run. (Hmm… could it be that investors are wary of putting their cash behind a chorus full of tap-dancing Ku Klux Klan members?)
The conceit of Jerry Springer is that it is, in fact, a full-fledged opera, packed with arias and fugues, dramatic duets and trios, gorgeous orchestrations, and lush, sophisticated melodies by Richard Thomas. The lyrics, however, by Thomas and Stewart Lee, tend toward the lowbrow (“My mum used to be my dad… snip, snip”). Imagine a soft, confessional ballad that begins with the line “A weird thing happened last night when I went to take a leak.” (Maybe now you get the picture.) By Act 2, the shtick grows a bit tiresome; when Jerry is broadcasting Springer from Hell (get ready for a Satan versus Jesus smackdown!) the show really goes off the rails. But you have to give props to whoever thought to give Eve a serpent tattoo and a mullet. At last night’s performance, Keitel — who, incidentally, has the only non-singing role — proved a game, surprisingly low-key Springer; his only truly hammy moment was his back-of-the-house, down-the-aisle, high-fiving, televangelist-style entrance (during which he stopped to quickly greet his pal Robert De Niro in the audience). There’s one more profanity-filled performance at Carnegie Hall tonight; if you can’t get there, but still want to see a 200-pound man in a diaper, you can always spring for the U.K. DVD.