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Alright, we know that they don’t write many boy-meets-girl musicals anymore. But "Jerry Springer" the opera? "Grey Gardens" the musical?
Yes, let’s all lift our voices and sing a tune -- about human degradation. But, let’s not be glib, these are two very smart musicals that really showcase Boston theater’s singing talent.
The Maysles Brothers made a cult documentary about how Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Little Edie, went from American royalty to total squalor, all within the confines of the family house in the Hamptons, Grey Gardens.
In the Lyric Stage Company production of that story, Leigh Barrett plays the mother in the first act, set in the 40s, and the daughter in the second, set in the 70s.
Barrett and Aimee Doherty, who plays Little Edie in Act 1, are two of the best singers in Boston. Doherty really comes into her own, but Barrett doesn’t really get a song that demonstrates her full power until the end of the show. And that's a problem with “Grey Gardens.” For all its intelligence, its music is not that interesting. The story only occasionally gets under the characters’ skin.
“Jerry Springer,” in a sensational SpeakEasy Stage Company production, has a different musical vocabulary. It’s an opera in more than name. Give a listen to Luke Grooms as Dwight telling his girl friend, Peaches, that he’s been, well, as he himself sings it, "Seein' someone else."
Okay, it isn’t Mozart. But it isn’t all that far from Gilbert and Sullivan — except for lyrics that would not please the FCC.
At one point, Jerry is called on to mediate a debate between Satan and Jesus. While we don’t exactly root for him, Timothy John Smith steals the show as Satan. And that has led to protests. Those protests were enough, says composer Richard Thomas, to keep the show from appearing in New York. Between 50 and 100 protesters came out for the Boston opening, but the show has gone on.
And it is quite a show. Its smart, energetic irreverence reminds you of Mel Brooks’ "The Producers." The opera’s ability to capture our obsession with wanting 15 minutes of fame makes it one of the most memorable theater events of the season.
Michael Fennimore is disappointingly bland-- he never captures Springer’s charismatic sarcasm. But the satire is hilarious. I guess we all just want our Jerry Springer moment...even the tap-dancing members of the Ku Klux Klan.
SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Jerry Springer – the Opera” continues at the Boston Center for the Arts through May 30. “Grey Gardens” runs through June 6 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.
Critic-At-Large Ed Siegel reviews theater and the arts for Morning Edition.
This program aired on May 12, 2009.
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