I saw Jerry Springer: The Opera at Carnegie Hall and was somewhat impressed—by the show itself rather than the production—even if I can't say I reached the gushing heights of Ben Brantley, going all Edmund Hillary on us in the NY Times. In brief: the score is absolutely superb, the lyrics are uneven, the libretto even more so.
Two particular elements that Brantley singled out for praise were glaringly faulty to me: The orchestra sounded tinny and sometimes cheaply undersized (cost-cutting measure?), and Harvey Keitel was a problem in the title role—as in, he had zero stage presence. This proved to be disastrous in the second act, in which Jerry Springer really comes to the fore and has to carry a lot more of the action than in the first act, where the parade of trailer-trash guests provides all the entertainment we need (but even there, the book could have been tightened up). Unfortunately, Keitel was a blank, robotically walking through the evening. Good thing the rest of the cast was superb, with a particular shout-out to Max von Essen, who made a brilliant entrance in a mini-skirt and pumps.
That was only one of the many bright moments that night. I'm no fan of profanity in shows, for instance, finding it usually a weak, cheap crutch, but there the avalanche of raunchy language and situations became completely surreal and turned into a kind of touching and often very funny poetry. (I'm waiting to see if Mamet is able to pull off a similar feat in his new play.)
There's basically two ways to get me at the theater: come up with a completely new device, something completely crazy I've never seen before; or find the extraordinary in the ordinary, sucking art out of the most mundane, the crassest spectacle. Normally I cannot bear the Jerry Springer Show—even at the gym with the sound off I can't look at it. But in that context, it became utterly captivating.
Jerry Springer: The Opera looks at its subjects with both and a refreshing lack of condescension. In that it resembles Mike White's Year of the Dog, possibly the most underrated movie of 2007. I've been told that the trailer makes the movie look like a romcom focusing on the relationship between Molly Shannon and Peter Sarsgaard, played against a cute-pet background. This could not be more misleading, as the film actually looks at a woman taking a drastic turn in her life and at how a certain kind of (benign) extremism can take hold in someone. (There are quite a few incensed posts on IMDB from viewers lured to the movie by the trailer and bitterly complaining about being cheated.) White never patronizes Shannon's character, even when she sinks to a unhinged low at some point; he's also very clear-eyed about the manipulative aspect of Sarsgaard's animal-loving character. And from a purely filmic point of view, White proves to be a more than adept director, coming up with beautiful compositions that really play up the eerie flatness (as in, lack of depth) of the SoCal location.
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