Jerry Springer -- The Opera May Close Due to Cost of Lawsuit
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
By Jill Lawless
LONDON ó Defamation suits. Bad press. Feuding producers.
Jerry Springer: The Opera has spawned a behind-the-scenes soap opera to match its onstage melodramatics.
The scabrous musical inspired by the king of trash TV is facing an early closing because of an expensive lawsuit against a British newspaper that claimed ó untruthfully at the time ó that the show was losing money.
A huge critical hit, Jerry Springer is due to run in London's West End until October 2005, with a Broadway production scheduled to open next fall. But producers acknowledge that the mounting cost of a lawsuit against the Daily Mail newspaper could force it to close within days.
"It's a fragile situation that may go either way," producer Jon Thoday said Tuesday [26 October].
Thoday's company, Avalon Promotions, says the show's problems began in January, when the Daily Mail ran a story claiming the musical was losing $73,000 a week. After examining the show's books, the newspaper apologized, acknowledging that Jerry Springer was "hugely popular" and making a healthy profit.
The producers nonetheless sued for a reported $730,000 in lost earnings, saying the Mail's story had hurt ticket sales.
The case is due to come to court in December, and backing out now would leave Avalon with a bill for both sides' legal costs. Thoday said that during a tough fall for West End shows, the producers of Jerry Springer have had to slash their marketing budget because of the potential cost of the lawsuit.
Created by composer Richard Thomas and comedian Stewart Lee, Jerry Springer opened to rave reviews at the National Theatre in April 2003, and transferred last October for a commercial West End run. The $13.9 million production is scheduled to play San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre next summer before arriving on Broadway in the fall.
The musical's fusion of high art and lowbrow TV has delighted critics and audiences alike. The show features a chorus line of dancing Ku Klux Klansmen and an all-singing cast of adulterous spouses, strippers, crack addicts and transsexuals. In the musical, Springer is shot at the end of the first act and gets dragged down to hell.
The real-life Springer saw the show last November in London and praised the production while distancing himself from the Jerry portrayed in it. "It's a persona, and they did it remarkably well," Springer said. "As an opera, it's perfect."
The show won an Olivier Award ó the British equivalent of the Tony ó for best musical. But it has played only to about 60 percent capacity since transferring to the 1,200-seat Cambridge Theatre, and its four-letter content has kept its catchy songs off radio and television.
"It's new work, and it's quite risquÈ," Thoday said. "When people see it, they say, 'It's one of the best things I've ever seen, but I couldn't possibly recommend it to my mother.' I say, 'Why not?'"
Thoday said the show's cast and crew "have been supportive beyond the call of duty" and audiences were growing, giving him hope the show could hold on until the lawsuit is settled.
Others were less optimistic. "It's a difficult show to market, because of the language," said Terri Paddock, editor of influential theater Web site www.whatsonstage.com. "I think it's a shame if it closes, but I don't see how it can continue."
The crisis also has exposed a rift between Avalon and the show's other producer, Los Angeles-based Allan McKeown. On Monday, McKeown issued a statement saying, "Neither Allan McKeown nor the production of Jerry Springer: The Opera are a party to, nor do they endorse, the action that Avalon Promotions has brought against the Daily Mail."
Thoday said McKeown "did agree to the lawsuit originally. Whatever he thinks now is another matter."
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