PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 26-Feb. 1: A Jerry Springer Moment

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01 Feb 2008

Harvey Keitel starred in <i>Jerry Springer
Harvey Keitel starred in Jerry Springer
Aubrey Reuben
Very possibly the most sordid, foul-mouthed, off-color presentation Carnegie Hall has ever seen in its 117 years opened a two-day stand on Jan. 29. And it went rather well.

Two days isn't much for Jerry Springer—The Opera, a London-born show that once had every right to look forward to a long, healthy run on Broadway. But, then, Carnegie Hall's not exactly the local Elks lodge, and you can bet that nearly everyone in the theatre, from producer to prognosticator, was in that hall on either Jan. 29 or Jan. 30, and they didn't mind much having to part the sea of religious protesters outside to get in.

Harvey Keitel starred as the purveyor of trailer-trash television, a non-singing role (whew!). Joining him on stage to play the various freaks and spotlight-seekers who populate Springer's show were Emily Skinner, Max von Essen and Linda Balgord. Original London star David Bedella reprised his Olivier Award winner role as Warm Up Man/Satan. Jason Moore directed.

Reviews were all over the place. Some thought it great fun. Some thought it one-joke and slight. Many were admiring of Richard Thomas' lush score. Most preferred the first act (tawdry show segment) to the second (God vs. Devil debate with Springer moderating). And a lot of critics viewed the concert as a tryout for Broadway. That could happen, thanks to the over-the-top response of the New York Times' Ben Brantley, who went so far as wonder if Jerry Springer wasn't "the great American musical of the early 21st century." He capped the review with "So please, let the pole-dancing fat lady sing again." Stay tuned.

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While you may see Jerry Springer again, you will not see Irish playwright Conor McPherson's supernatural-steeped play, The Seafarer, past March 30. That's the close date that producers confirmed this week. The production began Oct. 30, 2007, and was widely praised for its seamless ensemble acting.

Also not to be seen anytime soon is a Broadway-bound revival of the musical The Wiz, which has been in the works for most of the Bush administration and which was slated for a San Francisco engagement. It has been "postponed due to schedule conflicts," according to an announcement. The California run was to build upon the production "re-imagined" by director Des McAnuff and collaborators that began in fall 2006 at the La Jolla Playhouse. Production spokespersons had no further details at this time and could not confirm whether the work would be part of the company's next season or resurface elsewhere. (McAnuff is busy now as co-artistic director of Canada's Stratford Festival.) The musical was replaced in the San Francisco season by another "Broadway-bound" production, the American premiere of the new Irish musical Ha'Penny Bridge..

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If you've asked yourself, "Hey, what happened to those Urinetown guys?" anytime in the four years since that Broadway show closed, you got an answer this week. Mark Hollmann (music, some words) and Greg Kotis (words, more words) have come up with a new show, while — if the title is any judge — retaining their old, college sense of humor.

Yeast Nation: The Triumph of Life will make its Chicago premiere as part of American Theater Company's 2008-09 season, new artistic director PJ Paparelli announced. The musical previously had its world premiere in fall 2007 at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska. (How's that for playing out of town?).

Whereas Urinetown was set in the uncertain future, Yeast Nation takes place in the memorable year of 3,000,458,000 B.C., and the characters include the Earth's first life forms, salt-eating yeasts. Of course there's one "single-celled dreamer" out there who wants to change the world for the better. There's got to be. This is a musical!