West End Production of Jerry Springer _ The Opera on the Verge of Closing

Classic Arts News   West End Production of Jerry Springer _ The Opera on the Verge of Closing

Jerry Springer _ The Opera is fighting for its life. And, ironically for a show which partly owes its success to a fabulous clutch of reviews, it's an entanglement with a British newspaper which, claim the producers, has brought the show to its knees. "It is on a knife-edge," a source close to the show told Playbill On-Line.

According to the Independent newspaper, a closure announcement for Jerry could be imminent (the paper predicted that the show could shut up shop as early as lunchtime on Oct. 25, but at the time of writing that deadline has passed and the show is still officially open). The reason for the trauma, say the show's producers, is that a libel action fought against the Daily Mail is proving cripplingly expensive.

In March 2004 the Mail wrote that Jerry was in trouble, "losing money hand over fist." Avalon Productions and Allan McKeown, the show's producers, responded by opening their accounts to the newspaper, which printed a withdrawal. However, the producers sought damages totalling, according to the Independent, £440,000 for loss of earnings due to the original article damaging the show's reputation with its target audience.

The court case, due to be heard in December, has meant that hundreds of thousands of pounds have had to be diverted from the show's marketing budget to bolster the producers' war chest. Lead producer Jon Thoday told the newspaper that he cannot back down because paying the Mail's costs would be cripplingly pricey. Meanwhile audiences for the show have been faltering _ thanks, says Thoday, to the lack of marketing.

The producers of the show are not, however, of one mind on the subject of the Daily Mail suit or its impact of the musical fortunes. Allan McKeown, producer of Jerry Springer- The Opera issued a statement on October 25 which read:

"Neither Allan McKeown nor the production of Jerry Springer - The Opera are a party to, nor do they endorse, the action that Avalon Promotions (co-producer) has brought against the Daily Mail. After rave reviews and favourable press from its inception in Edingburgh August 2002 through its West End opening November 2003, a less flattering and factually incorrect article appeared in the "Daily Mail Diary" on January 30th 2004. The Daily Mail agreed that the gossip piece was incorrect and printed a full apology. However Avalon acting alone chose to bring a defamation action against the newspaper. The costs of any action are the sole responsibility of Avalon, should not be charged to the production nor affect the marketing of the show.

"The show which had won all the major awards including the Olivier Award Best Musical, with its original cast, has been a critical and popular success. However I recognise that since leaving the subsidized National Theater the production has had problems of scale. As those problems of scale have not as yet been addressed, I have not been active in the management nor supported the show financially, since the departure of our original cast on July 10th 2004. However I continue to be enthusiatic about the show's prospects and firmly believe that at the right scale the show has the potential of an enourmous success here in the U.S."

Thoday is currently in New York trying to raise finance, while negotiations are ongoing with the cast and production team in London to try and arrange a rescue package. As for the long-rumored New York production, the show's co-writer Stewart Lee recently said in a newspaper interview that the subject matter (plenty of swearing and graphic imagery) is likely to be too commercially risky for conservative Broadway audiences.

Jerry, which ran at the Battersea Arts Centre and the Edinburgh Festival before moving to the West End, combines elements of traditional opera, rock opera, and musical comedy in depicting the trailer-trash dramas of the American TV talk show.

For more theater news, visit Playbill On-Line.

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