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Talk Show: The Musical by WILLS MORGAN

2 Aug

IT HAD TRASH TALK performed by opera singers . It had a musical score which boasted some some actual tunes. It had a whole first act and a bit of a second act. And it had a big black man in a clean white nappy. This is the story of how JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA became the hit show a decade ago today at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  NOW READ MORE……

IN AUGUST of 2002, a modestly staged entertainment was to become the hit of the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. An indication of what was about to hit the city appeared on the cover of the weekly guide to Fringe events: the LIST magazine.

 

All undressed…and nowhere to go.

 

In small letters: Edinburgh stripped bare. In capital letters and in a larger font: NAPPY DAYS. And the picture? A big and beautiful Black Man. Wearing a Diaper and With a Dummy In his Mouth. And Nothing Else covering his Modesty. Apart from the strategic placing of a TV talk-show cue card which bore the following legend:

 

JERRY SPRINGER: The Opera.

 

Note the title of the Legend. JERRY SPRINGER: a man who has had many careers. A lawyer, politician and an Emmy-Award winning news anchor. And, in 1991, the host of what was called a ‘talk show’ called (naturally enough) The Jerry Springer Show.

This show started in a lower case font. As un-sensational social commentary of the kind that Mr. Springer was already known for. The viewing figures were not good. (This is a polite way of saying those same viewing figures were shit. Really quite shitty.)

A new producer was brought in; his name was Richard Dominick. He’s responsible for Jerry Springer becoming the character that we know we love to hate to love: JERRY SPRINGER.

The new show was pretty much like life itself: full of surprises. Low lives. Unhappy marriages. Perverse behaviour. The Ku Klux Klan. The odd prostitute. God. Romances with animals. You know what I mean. There was heckling. There was fighting. There was people throwing things. There was people throwing up. But most of all…importantly…most especially…there was people having themselves a good, good time. It was trashy. It was ‘bloody funny’. It was made for TV. But equally…it was…and is…opera.

So how did JERRY SPRINGER get attached to The Opera in its lower case sense? Here’s how: with one man with a piano.

Lore Lixenberg. She sings. And then some.

A glamourous, voluptuous mezzo-soprano singer named LORE. A couple of crates of John Smiths bitter. ASDA lager, as well, just for a bit of contrast. In a small studio in Battersea, South London, In England, that itty-bitty island off the coast of Europe.

The Brixton-based composer Richard Thomas’ workshops were called ‘How to write an Opera about Jerry Springer’. The flyer for the show was an apology: ‘Have an idea. Think it’s a shit idea. Despair. Do it anyway’. It was done: and the Legend was born.

In August 2001, Mr. Thomas’ London cabaret group, known as KOMBAT OPERA took to the stage in multiple guises. Serial seducers. Trailer Trash. The Ku Klux Klan. And right in the middle of it all…an anti-chorus every bit as fierce as the crowd of Jews as portrayed by JS Bach in his Matthew and John passions.

The Indepenent on Sunday journalist Anna Picard wrote of ‘the first opera to take television as its subject’. She is 50 percent correct. As I know only too well, the subject matter of JERRY SPRINGER: The Opera is both Tele-Visual and Opera-Tic.

The word was spread that this was a show to see. In January and February of 2002 anybody who was anybody came to the second run of performances. Germaine Greer was there. Nicholas Hytner visited daily. Tim Rice came. Harry Hill, Chris Morris, Mel and Sue, Frank Skinner, Soo from “The Sooty Show” and much of the cream of British comedy saw what had inevitably become JS:TO.

Journalists wrote about it unbidden. Lyn Gardner of the Guardian came, saw half the show and wrote a review of the whole that was not polite. How we in the cast laughed at her. She should have gone to Specsavers, we said.

Fortunately, there was enough good press to secure an investment from TV mogul and celeb hairdresser Allan McKeown for a rewrite: the cast and newly-expanded company of 20 reconvened in Clapham to prepare to take JS:TO to the comedy Mecca that is the Edinburgh fringe.

Thomas and Lee in 2002

Stewart Lee became director of JS:TO as well as co-writer. This was to be both a happy and unhappy accident for him. Richard Thomas continued to de-compose. International ABBA expert Martin Lowe urged and inspired us on. Dance expert Jenny Arnold helped to cover cracks that were still evident in the concept.

Day one of rehearsals was a bit nervy. Mr. McKeown came to the first sing-through with his wife, the artist formerly known as Tracey Ullman. We were a cast member down, as Andrew Bevis (a talented Australian singer) was voiceless. I was given the job of filling in Andrew’s part whilst Andrew had to endure listening to me rip his role to shreds!

Mr. Auf Wiedersehn, Pet with Miss ‘I had “The Simpsons” in my show first’

Allan McKeown takes up the tale: “In the car on the way to the first ever sing through of JERRY SPRINGER: The Opera my wife asked me how much money I had invested in the show. I told her. ‘You must have loved the script’ she said. I told her I hadn’t read it. ‘Oh you loved the music?’ I said I hadn’t heard it. ‘You idiot’ she said. Half way through the sing-through she whispers to me ‘How much of the show do we own?’ ‘50%’ I told her. ‘You idiot you should have bought the lot.’”

There were two major additions to the cast. I had played Dwight, the serial seducer who was always ‘seeing someone else’. I exchanged that for the role of Jesus (a higher calling) whilst Benjamin Lake took the role of Dwight. Richard Thomas was so impressed with Ben that he wrote in an extra role for him: that part was the biggie… that of God Almighty himself.

from Rocky to Satan: David Bedella.

But the major find was David Bedella. David had scored major theatre credits which included singing Fran-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show alongside Meatloaf, La Cage Aux Folles with Gene Barry and Caiaphas In Jesus Christ Superstar with Ted Neely and Carl Anderson. Credentials enough for the dual roles of Devil and Warm-up Guy.

Returning members of KOMBAT Opera were Valda Aviks in a myriad of roles, including a Superior Mother: also Lore Lixenberg as Valda’s vocal and comedic foil…and of course the play friend of Diaper Man. I was Montel, the guy revealed to be the Man of Diaper, who was to return as Jesus in the second act.

this is a wierd pic. get over it. talk to the haynd.


The Canadian funny-guy Rick Bland reassumed his true characterization of ‘The Springer’. Andrew Bevis played Tremont, the Chick with a Dick. The distinguished actress Beverley Klein had a go at being a pole dancer. David Birrell was Klein’s Hillbilly husband.


To say the casting was ideal was not completely true: but enough of the pieces were there for the show to succeed up north. Most importantly, the writers insisted on colour-blind casting in all areas of the company. Later…much much later…the entire chorus of our little show was to win an Olivier Award for their outstanding contribution to a Musical.

JERRY SPRINGER: The Opera wasn’t the only thing happening at the 2002 Fringe Festival. The other big ticket was for Derevo, the theatre ensemble from St Petersburg. Omid Djalili and Ross Noble made the cover of the List magazine alongside that picture of me in the nappy. But there was only one show that had low lives, unhappy marriages, perverse behaviour, the Ku Klux Klan, The odd prostitute and God in it. You know the one I’m talking about.


Word spread that this was a musical event that should be seen. Many, many people saw it. Including the man himself: Jerry Springer. On a lovely Saturday afternoon. ”The Theatre was packed. The producers didn’t want to scare the cast, so they didn’t tell them which day I was coming – that was the plan at least. When I walked into the theatre though, everyone started chanting ‘Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!’ I think the cast caught on pretty quickly.’”

his middle name is norman

Afterwards Jerry met the cast and shook my hand. He admitted he wasn’t sure he should shake it, given my casting as the Diaper Man.

I said ‘It all right, I’ve wiped my hands.’

(c) Wills Morgan 2012: published first in CCK.

The End is Nigh!

22 Nov

Here at CCK we’ve been huge fans of Ray’s work for some time – and it seems we aren’t the only ones!

His increasing popularity means that the Open Edition Prints that we stock in the CCK webshop will soon be coming to an end. The last date you can order by is November 30th. With only one week to go, we want to make sure you have time to get your mitts on a signed work of art!

Ray’s work is super sensual, and his strong women show the artists fascination with fantasy and fetish. His leather and latex clad women are beautifully drawn and have been the object for many critics.

This is the last chance to get a piece of Ray Leaning artwork without commissioning a private piece, so don’t miss out! We have a huge selection to choose from so go and have a browse and see what takes your fancy. Support CCK Today!

 

Don’t forget to check out Royston’s Artist Spotlight on Ray Leaning too, to learn more about this incredible artist!

Exhibition – Keith Pattison: No Redemption

19 Feb

With a collection of photographs taken during the miners’ strike of 1984-5 around the Easington Colliery area in Durham, this exhibition is an insightful reflection of a working class community and its struggles in the era of Thatcherite cuts. The 55 photographs by Keith Pattison, showing at King’s Place Gallery until 4th March, evocatively captures a piece of recent history, with stunning representations of place, people and conflict.

Throughout the collection there is an impressive use of subject, light and framing. These beautiful black and white images have a wonderfully textural look, whilst capturing what are often quite bleak and hard-hitting subject matters. In terms of reportage, the photographs give a sense of what it must have been like to live in these communities, with depictions of the day-today lives of those who lived through it.

The struggles of the miners and their families, whether it was the battles with police and scabs, the constant pressure of having their town overtaken by outside forces, the need to provide some feeling of escapism and joy for the children or the hardship of getting enough money and food to survive are  shown graphically throughout. The faces captured in the photographs, from both sides of the divide, show the range of emotions felt. From the defiance, hardship, yet sense of unity and pride of the miners and their families, to the determined, hardened looks of the police, these are wonderful studies of portraiture.

The depiction of the Easington area itself, with its rows of terraced houses, scrubby grass verges and stunningly dramatic coastline all dominated by the colliery and its industrial architecture, is made all the more poignant yet relevant to viewers today. These images may only have been taken 25 years ago, yet, with the loss of the mining industry in the area, they allow us to see what is now a lost landscape.

While those of us who remember the miners strike, and the images from the media at the time, might feel a sense of familiarity with the photographs of the conflict between strikers and police, what makes this exhibition even more worthwhile are the shots of the miners and their families at home, at play, at meetings, in the canteens and welfare halls or in the streets. This exhibition takes the audience on a journey from the hope and determination of the earlier days of the strike, to the division, despair and bitter acceptance at the end of the action.

As a collection, Keith Pattison has brought together some stunning, powerful imagery. There are particular photographs I loved. One with a miner collecting sea coal at the beach, with a smile of conspiratorial cheekiness; a miner and his family at home watching Arthur Scargill on TV in a room of typical early 80s decor, a Turner reproduction and a poster of Karl Marx on the wall; riot police lined up outside a house as a mother holds her baby and looks out from an upstairs window. There are more, but it is the collection as a whole that makes you feel moved, informed and heartened. In these times of recession and cuts, this exhibition of Britain’s recent history is both relevant and palpable. I highly recommend it to everyone.

 

Cover of "No Redemption" - published by Flambard Press

 

 

Pattison’s photographs have been published in the book accompanying the exhibition; his images are introduced by writer David Peace, who interview three of the people caught up in the strikes. There isn’t really a better way to explain the effect of these interviews than the words of the publisher – “their memories, still freshly felt, make explicit the anger, pain, resilience and warmth captured in the photographs.

Keith Pattison’s images have also been used by Sunderland band Frankie and the Heartstrings on two of their vinyl releases; they played at the book launch.

 

7" single "Ungrateful" features the work of Keith Patterson