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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.

Nutcracker!

10 Jan
photo credit to Alistair Muir
A Christmas classic with music that is recognisable by all, the Nutcracker has long held a place in our hearts as one of the most famous ballets. Some characters, such as the Sugar Plum Fairy, have passed into cultural legend and advertisers frequently assail our ears with a multitude of variations on the same four bars, used in almost every TV advert that pretends it’s not playing Christmas music.

However, Matthew Bourne OBE has cast his magic over this classic and turned it into something entirely new and different. Often noted as Britain’s most popular and successful choreographer, Bourne is the only British director to have won Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography.

You may recognise his name from the bill of Swan Lake, where instead of the dainty Odette and her accompanying ballerinas, we were presented with male swans, bare chested and in feathery pantaloons. Bourne’s genius is no less apparent in Nutcracker! where Act One starts in a Dickensian orphanage rather than the sumptuous settings of previous incarnations. The pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy has changed – there are four people on stage, and none en pointe. It is different, it is sassy and it is utterly charming. Expect techno colours and cheeky grins!

I shan’t spoil it for you; suffice to say, the plot has changed enough to entice and captivate every audience member from ballet veterans to those who go along for the sake of their date. This irreverent and utterly genius interpretation is not to be missed. There are performances running until the 22nd January at Sadler Well’s Theatre and tickets are still available.

Interview with Producer of Cabaret New Burlesque

9 Nov

The other day we spotted an interesting interview with Kitty Hartl, the producer of the  european stage tour of Cabaret New Burlesque.

A fresh original take on the traditional cabaret show, Cabaret New Burlesque is a fusion of the two combining classiness with outrageousness.

The current tour is running all over Europe from October 2011 to June 2012.

http://burlesquedaily.blogspot.com/2011/10/interview-with-kitty-hartl-producer-of.html

http://www.cabaretsnewburlesque.com/

Natitonal Cherry Day (is not far away)

6 Jul

black forest gat. with cherries

The British cherry is a wonderful thing…and especially when it is fresh. For the last couple of years the foodie folks responsible for focussing our national awareness on a particular product have taken care to remind us that the we should continue to love our cherries and keep them close to our hearts. And mouths.

National Cherry Day this year is on the 16th July.  Don’t forget! One other thing…you can catch performances of The Cherry Orchard by Anton C.  at the National Theatre this month. See what I did there… Cherry at the National…

Oh…the cake is a Black Forest with cherries on it.

I Love You, But..

18 Mar

On 20th March, from 7-10pm, The Oval House Theatre hosts ‘I Love You, But We Only Have Fourteen Minutes To Save The Earth’, a mixture of live and video performances. Created, directed and developed by Nathan Evans, the talented performer known for his work at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, the show boasts some of the best gender and genre-defying acts that grace our appreciative performance venues.

The wonderful, acerbic, intelligent and (very, very!) funny David Hoyle, reigning Alternative Miss World and (sometime) Bluestocking Society performer Fancy Chance, and bearded lady, homespun philosopher Timberlina, will be performing live. All-round icon, legend and actor Betty Bourne and video artist Kate Pelling will be performing in projected form.

The project gives each unique performer the chance to display their amazing talents within the remit of the title’s outline. This show promises to deliver some of the most thought-provoking, intelligent and amusing performances available at the present time. Tickets cost £5, and I doubt you will find a better priced evening’s entertainment. A one-off show that will delight and inform on a discourse we can all relate to.

Cake: a freshly cooked Desert in NY

15 Mar
Thom Allison models the special cupcake made to celebrate the opening of "Priscilla"

photo of Thom Allison in a cup (c) Tristran Fuge

Priscilla, the bus known as the Queen of the Desert has seen many adventures  since her all-conquering movie debut in the mid-nineties. The above picture celebrates  her most recent stop for picking up new admirers…Broadway, New York.

Renowned NY eating place Magnolia’s Bakery (cupcakes…we can do!) has created a confection based on dance designs made for the Priscilla  musical – the first time (as far as I can tell) that a Broadway show has been honoured in this way.

I should say this pic is a fair representation of what the Bakery have come up with… but they say its a “pistachio cupcake with fluffy pistachio meringue butter cream is topped with a meringue kiss, bright edible confetti and iridescent “disco dust!”

Tony Sheldon (Olivier-nominated and familiar from the London West End stop) will be joining Tony nominee Will Swenson and Nick Adams for the opening night of  Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical at the Palace Theatre, Broadway on Sunday coming…

Tristan Fuge’s theatre story: link cup

Night of the Blue Stockings- Up the Ladder to Success!

28 Feb

Night of the Blue Stockings, photo K.James for Coffee Cake and Kink

Be upstanding for the fabulous Night of the Blue Stockings! We were lucky enough to go and see this popular and busy evening of cabaret and burlesque performance held monthly at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club last Thursday night, and what a glittering, fun-packed show it was. A host of  hilarious acts with a warmth and sense of joy that would be hard-pressed to better, captivated their appreciative crowd.

Fancy Chance, photo K.James for Coffee Cake and kink

Our honorary Madam Chairperson for the evening was reigning Alternative Miss World 2009 and London’s Top Tranny 2010, Fancy Chance. Keeping things swinging, with her humour and audience interaction, she MC’d throughout the night between the other great acts on offer. She also delighted us with her own revolutionary act, taking us all the way from North Korea’s national anthem to good ol’ Yankee capitalism via an outrageously funny dance and rhythmic gymnastic display that had the audience on their feet and wanting more.

Honey Wilde, photo K.James for Coffee Cake and Kink

First act up was Justin Pants, with his alternative burlesque Action Man strip. If you ever wondered what Action Man keeps under his pants, well, yes, it is a weird, plastic non-penis. A very clever take on male stripping! Next up was Honey Wilde, the fantastic burlesque artist, with an avant-garde, in the most tongue-in-cheek way, musical performance of inventive cover versions of some 80s electro classics. Never before have two (yes, TWO!) toy pianos and a kazoo (!) sounded so good. The crowd both recognised and loved her amusing renditions of tunes by A-Ha, the Pet Shop Boys and others. Laurie Anderson could learn a thing or two.

Misster Blanche Dubois, photo by K.James for Coffee Cake and Kink

All the way from 1933, Depression era Kentucky (kinda), came songstress Miss Anna Kronist. Playing her guitar and singing quite beautifully, she entertained us with her songs about love, death and a Blondie cover in the style of  down home Americana. A wonderful musical moment.  She was followed by Misster Blanche Dubois, who was somehow able to  blend drag with a lion costume! Singing ‘La Vie En Rose’ in an operatic, lionesque (trust me) chanteuse way, he then transformed into a kinky, burlesque striptease. The audience bellowed with laughter as we were treated to what a ‘naked’ lion can do.

Anna Kronist with Fancy Chance, photo by K.James for Coffee Cake and Kink

The Madam Secretary of The Blue Stocking Society is Audacity Chutzpah, and, as her name suggests, she certainly had plenty of both and more besides. She amused and delighted the house with a very witty sketch about being stuck on a desert island. It was an inventive and engaging act, which had the audience in stitches. Ending with a sing-along, in which we all happily joined in, this was a fantastic evening.

Audacity Chutzpah, photo by K.James for Coffee Cake and Kink

With tea and cakes on offer (a nice little touch) and DJ Josephine Shaker playing a suitably impressive selection of retro sounds in keeping with the ambience of the night, a very enjoyable and entertaining night was had by all. The lack of any pretension, the engaging nature of all the performers, and the unique blend of inventiveness and hilarity on offer, makes this a night out I can not recommend highly enough.

Night of the Blue Stockings, photo by K.James for Coffee Cake and Kink

Art Wank- Porn, Performance, And A Pleasure!

24 Feb

The London Launch of Art Wank happened last night, and what a happening it was. Curated and hosted by the talented, funny and damned sexy Ophelia Bitz, Art Wank is the perfect night for lovers of classic, retro porn, the curious and those of us who like a chance to dress up, have fun and be enlightened to our kink history. Yes, a pornucopia of entertainment was had by all!

Ophelia Bitz, photo by K. James for Coffee, Cake and Kink

Art Wank was held at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury, a wonderfully intimate venue that felt just right for the occasion. Ophelia Bitz, our hostess with the mostest and wearing a stunning outfit to boot, welcomed a glamourous capacity crowd who had also dressed for the occasion. The night itself was a glorious mixture of showings from very early porn films (from the silent era up to early 70s ‘lost’ classics), entertaining acts, music, comedy and an insightful mini-lecture on ‘Why sex is fun’.

Kitty Stryker, photo by K.James for Coffee, Cake and Kink

Ophelia has spent days, nay months, researching early porn films (so you don’t have to!) to delight a very appreciative audience. From early (mostly French, ooh la la) films, that seemed to have a penchant for outdoors threesomes, up to early 70s football themed gay male porn, with a witty, specially selected (by Ophelia herself) and apt music accompaniment , the films showed how both the aesthetics and content of porn have changed over the decades. The innocence, naivety and lack of camera awareness of the early performers was a refreshing joy, and the audience happily laughed along to the films. Mr Tom Baker provided wonderful musical accompaniment on the accordion to these very early classics, which seemed especially fitting for the French films, in particular.

Kitty Stryker, sex worker and sex educator, who you may know from Kinky Salon London, gave a thought-provoking, amusing, empowering and well researched mini-lecture on ‘Why sex is fun’. Challenging the audience to think about how we view and consume porn, how we should bring the fun and pure joy back to it, even encouraging us to take control and make it ourselves; Kitty reminded us that sex is both fun, and often funny. She is also probably the reason why there were so many clowns in the audience (you should’ve been there).

Crimson Skye, photo by K.James for Coffee, Cake and Kink

Ophelia Bitz held the night together with both wit and aplomb. Charming all who were there, she added her amusing asides to accompany and introduce the films, performed a very funny take on the song ‘Falling in Love Again’ (with an apt change to the lyrics) and held a competition that had the crowd hooting with laughter. Performance artiste, Crimson Skye, also entertained the crowd with her sassy, sparkling (in more ways than one!) act. She had the audience whooping for more, and added to a brilliant night’s entertainment.

Ophelia and contestants, photo by K.James for Coffee, Cake and Kink

Art Wank is a magical amalgam of  a night out. Educational (though not in the way that our education system works. If only school was like this, I would’ve paid more attention!), fantastic performances, fabulous films, humour and the chance to socialise with a charismatic crowd, it was all very enjoyable. There will be another Art Wank next month, and if the popularity of last night’s event is anything to go by, I recommend you get your tickets early. Trust me, you will love it!

Opera: ‘Anna Nicole’ makes her first big appearance

17 Feb

Anna Nicole Smith (pictured above) is the latest in a long, long  line of  operatic femmes fatales. She’s not the first real character to have (a version of) her life fashioned into an art as supposedly grandiose as opera: but even the briefest of online searches can demonstrate why this face could fit alongside such legendary leading ladies as Carmen, Lulu,  Delilah and Salome.

It’s not just the face that fascinates. Popular appearances in a well-known men’s magazine led to Ms. Smith’s crowned as the 1993 Playmate of the Year. She followed that up with her first big movie role (in The Naked Gun 33 and 1/3) marriage to a much older (and richer) man, celebrity status, reality shows and a number of tragic deaths…including her own.

Hot on the heels of tube adverts advising us of ‘extreme language’, ‘drug abuse’ and ‘sexual content’ the initial run of Anna Nicole will begin today at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The culturally interested and the curious bystander will flock from far and wide to see what happens. The omens are good: many of the biggest names in contemporary opera and music theatre are involved.

Another of the tag-lines from that tube poster is The Party Always Ends. My guess is that many folks will turn up for the party bit… but it’s the Ending, and the agony that surrounds Anna Nicole’s life that draws focus for me. Can the British writing team come up with words and music that will allow her character to seduce us again? Will we want to remember her…spend more than an evening with her? And even if we know why, will we keep on asking that very question…why her?

profile pic of Dutch soprano Eva Maria Westbroek

Eva Maria Westbroek  (pictured) leads the cast in tonight’s premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera ‘Anna Nicole’, produced by Richard Jones at the Royal Opera.  Also: Alan Oke sings as Old Man Marshall, and Gerald Finley as Lawyer Stern. The libretto is by Richard Thomas: Antonio Pappano, MD of the Royal Opera conducts the performance. More performances on Feb 21, 23 and 26/March 1 and 4.

Tags: Non Fiction


Bright and Brilliant: the Night of the Blue Stockings

3 Feb
brightly coloured female musical double-act pluck and shake their stuff.

The Janus Sisters turn it on. (photo: K James)

You step out of the fresh, cold air that is Bethnal Green on a Thursday night and join the queue that’s just inside the entrance of the local Working Men’s Club. You can’t quite tell what lies behind  the swing doors…but you do start to notice that almost everybody knows what to expect from the evening’s entertainment. And they can’t wait till it gets going.

Inside, there is a warm and welcoming space with a careful plotting of chairs and tables: the crowd swells unobtrusively. The four corners of the hall already buzz with activity. The bar hogs an area in the back, and opposite (in a more contained area) is a delightful cake stand manned by “Hooray Henry”. Small red lights and a mirrorball… a makeshift changing area…songsheets…and raffle tickets.

two elegantly (!) dressed ladies leading the proceedings for a cabaret night

Tricity (Vogue) and Audacity (Chutzpah) have us in order! (photo: K James)

My tickets are sold to me by a handsome, well-dressed lady. When I say well dressed, I mean it. The bandages are a result of this lady’s tooth being removed: moreover, the tooth (and the pliers that removed them) are the first prize in the raffle. What I am trying to say is this: I am in the presence of Audacity Chutzpah, one of the clown lynch-pins of the Blue Stocking Society. And I’m looking at a horribly funny (or teribly witty if you prefer) portrayal of a character to which I find myself particularly drawn.

I haven’t started to tell you about the night of Burlesque and Cabaret itself, but the exchange between Ms. Chutzpah and myself speaks volumes about why the Night is so much fun. It’s about an open, attentive and active audience in league with a group of dedicated and enlightened peformers. It’s not over reliant on technology or a high budget – that’s a good thing. And there is a good mix of music, movement, minimal clothing and mime.

a burlesque dancer as brightly dressed chick: with feathers.

Ginger Blush goes to work in an egg (photo: K James)

The  opening act on this particular night was a new routine devised by Ginger Blush, featuring herself as a newly-cracked chick emerging from…an egg. It’s quite bright, very feathery and leaves a miniscule area of mess.

Kate Lucas is an up-and coming comic: she filled her spot with songs about stalking, loathing  (a cheerful number called ‘I hate you, Bastard’) and self-advertising. I like musical comedy a lot, so this went down well.

burlesque artiste Lambchop Magoo presents herself in a suitable attire

Here we present Lambchop Magoo presenting herself. (photo: K. James)

Ms. Lambchop Magoo’s act was next. This was a  popular routine given by a very determined performer: when she sets her mind to what her actual routine will be, it always amuses and works out well. On the night we got both mathematics and burlesque: and when Ms. Magoo shows her hair off to crown her moves it was rightly greeted with cheers and calls.

Shirley Windmill’s big British marrow was another hit of the night. This was partly because  the routine grew to an unusual length, surprising everybody (including Ms. Windmill herself). Never mind though: she stretched herself to new heights, and with the crowd’s support left the stage triumphant. The marrow was not damaged.

Then there was Hannah Ballou, who delivered a small set of stand-up comedy from an American perspective: nice. Also the Janus Sisters, a musical double-act joined at the (one) hip, seemingly put together by an all-knowing theatre God.  Creating their laughs  by turning, revolving and revealing their instrumental dexterity, here was another success.

a cabaret artiste with her legs on show!

Show business: our guest host (or is it?)

The Blue Stockings’ honorary host for all of this was the delightful Kiki Kaboom. Hers was a busy night: she appeared in a number of guises and fetching costumes (most of these are reproduced here in the gallery), led the audience in a nonsensical bout of ‘Military Fitness’ and (best of all) sang in a commanding voice about the needs of her ‘pussy’.

All this…and I still haven’t quite covered (if that’s the word) the raffle, the surreal sing-a-long and other incidental jollies. And I’m not sure that I’ve done justice to the small group of artistes led by Tricity Vogue (Madam Treasurer, chanteuse, order keeper) who made the night as sharp, bright and brilliant as it was. I do know it was well worth the journey east.

I went back to the Bethnal Green air much the warmer inside: my mind a fizz of names and props, and my hair thrown back covering the patchy spots. I can recommend that you take the Blue Stocking Society to your hearts yourself by reserving that last Thursday in the month, taking a bus or a tube to Bethnal… and paying them a visit.

Tricity Vogue on the origins of the Blue Stockings