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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Seattle Production of Jerry Springer: The Opera Weathers Catholic Outrage

Posted by on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM


The Seattle production of Jerry Springer: The Opera doesn't open for another 77 hours or so, but it's already been subjected to an avalanche of outrage from Catholics furious that Seattle Theater Group and Balagan Theatre would even consider doing such a blasphemous work. As Antonio Hicks, PR manager for Seattle Theater Group, told me yesterday, "STG has received over 40,000 emails from the group America Needs Fatima, protesting against us for allowing such a production to occur."

Some background: Jerry Springer: The Opera is the award-winning satirical musical based on The Jerry Springer Show. The musical was written by Richard Thomas and the fearless British comic Stewart Lee, and the blowback from Catholics is nothing new.

Here's the Catholic League's official statement on the 2008 production at NYC's Carnegie Hall:

As we predicted, this grotesque production assaulted Christianity; it also dirtied the illustrious history of the hosting venue...In the musical, Christ is depicted as a fat, effeminate character who has his genitals fondled by Eve. The crucifixion is mocked, the Eucharist is trashed, and the Virgin Mary is introduced as a woman who was “raped by an angel”.....More than anything else, what the show celebrated was moral nihilism. At the end, it even voiced the theme: “Nothing is wrong and nothing is right” and “there are no absolutes of good and evil.” This is exactly what the Nazis said in their defense at Nuremberg.

Similar hubbub greeted the 2009 production in Boston and the 2011 production in Orange County.

As for the 40,000-and-counting letter campaign against STG from America Needs Fatima, you can read the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's smashing response to ANF's flying monkeys, along with STG's official response to the controversy, after the jump. (And get your tickets for Jerry Springer: The Opera here!)

Here's Tony Brown at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, addressing protests against the show in 2011:

America Needs Fatima, an anti-blasphemy Catholic campaign not officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, is really, really upset by the way Jesus and the Virgin Mary are portrayed in a scene of the musical "Jerry Springer: The Opera." ANF has attacked the Beck Center for the Arts' upcoming production of the show via a massive, automated e-mail campaign, with in-person pickets promised during the Feb. 17-March 27 Lakewood run. To hear the rhetoric, you'd think the Beck Center was torturing Catholics by forcing them to watch "Jerry Springer: The Opera." If anything, it's America Needs Fatima that wants to force its beliefs on others by trying to shut down the show. Here's what the nearly identical e-mails generated on the ANF site say:

• I have read a description of this play and am shocked at its blasphemous representation of things absolutely sacred to our Faith.

Translation: "I don't know what I'm talking about because I haven't read or seen or heard this musical." You can't call balls and strikes if you don't stand behind the plate. America Needs Fatima isn't even in the ballpark.

• Moreover, your center receives tax dollars!

True. The biggest government contribution to the Beck is the arts center's tax-exempt status. You know what other group has the same status? America Needs Fatima, whose "message" is potentially offensive to tax-paying atheists, among others.

• The production deeply offends God and Catholics. Would you do a play that offends Muslims or Jews?

The almighty and ever-living God is offended by a little old musical in little old Lakewood? Really? God said that to America Needs Fatima? Isn't God likely to have better things to be offended about: war, crime, suffering, people bullying other people?

And Catholics are offended, too? Yup. Some so much so, apparently, that this self-appointed group of blasphemy-busters is dropping hints of Jew-baiting and Muslim-hating.

Nearly eight of 10 Americans are Christians, and a quarter of those are Catholics.

Wouldn't it be more Christian of members of this majority to avoid comparing themselves to minorities like Jews and Muslims, who together account for about 4 percent of the U.S. population, and whose families have suffered centuries of real persecution, often at the hands of people who call themselves Christian?

For the record, the Beck Center has staged shows that make fun of things sacred to groups other than Christians. One, "The Producers," got laughs out of the Holocaust. It was written by Mel Brooks. He's Jewish.

And here is Seattle Theater Group's official statement:

The Seattle Theatre Group, a non-profit performing arts organization stands by its mission to present diverse performing arts programs. While not all productions will appeal to all people, we do not embrace censorship and believe in the American right for all to have a voice, therefore, we will not block any protest attempts of this production, nor will be make any attempts to keep it from being performed.


Comments (21) RSS

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fletc3her 1
And now I kind of want to go to this play I would have never considered seeing otherwise. Am I so easily led?
Posted by fletc3her on January 7, 2014 at 1:12 PM · Report this
David Schmader 2
Don't feel bad. This is going to make a ton of Slog readers want to see it.
Posted by David Schmader on January 7, 2014 at 1:20 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 3
When are we going to get the Anna Nicole opera? The libretto was written by the same author.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on January 7, 2014 at 1:25 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 4
Sorry, couldn't read most of this post. My eyes started rolling uncontrollably when I read "the Catholic League." Oh shit, there they go again.
Posted by MacCrocodile on January 7, 2014 at 1:25 PM · Report this
pg13 5
I've got the original UK version on DVD (region 2, but region-free DVD players are awesome.) IT STARS DAVID SOUL!!!

And good to know that you're a Stewart Lee fan, David! (Too bad he hates America so much...I'd love to bring him to Seattle to perform.)
Posted by pg13 on January 7, 2014 at 1:36 PM · Report this
Lissa 6
@4: There was a cast member @ Mr. Harriman's Christmas party, I don't know if you had a chance to speak to him, but he was charming and the show sounded like fun from his description. I've since found out that I know some one else in the cast. Maybe we should get a group together to go see it?
Posted by Lissa on January 7, 2014 at 1:41 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 7
Anything Catholics hate has a redeeming quality.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on January 7, 2014 at 1:48 PM · Report this
Tracy 8
As a Balagan subscriber I've already got my tix. But this inspires me to rally my non-theatre pals to join in the fun.
Posted by Tracy on January 7, 2014 at 1:48 PM · Report this
By blind chance, I saw this at it's first London run - somewhat obnoxious in parts, but Americans have seen as bad or worse within the crasser realms of cable TV.

It's unlikely to drive Christians from the faith anytime soon, though I hope more folks get past the quick laughs and shockers and toward the more lasting points made in the musical.

My two bits...
Posted by palamedes on January 7, 2014 at 2:00 PM · Report this
Who cares. Catholics never go to theatre anyway.
Posted by BigDenny on January 7, 2014 at 2:23 PM · Report this
They're so easily baited...
Posted by marxiano on January 7, 2014 at 2:42 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 12
I'm impressed that America Needs Fatima, which is about the dumbest name for an organization I've ever heard and probably consists of 3 people, could generate 40K emails. Nice outrage machine they've got going.

Posted by Max Solomon on January 7, 2014 at 2:52 PM · Report this
unknown_entity 13

The new pope hates poverty.
Posted by unknown_entity on January 7, 2014 at 2:52 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 14
@13 From his lavish palaces and endless benefits. While fighting birth control that would help people in poverty. He's just a phony.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on January 7, 2014 at 3:27 PM · Report this
Bauhaus I 15
Of course, the Catholic League should know all about what assaults Christianity. Nothing assaults Christianity quite like the Catholic League, Catholicism, and the boys in Rome.
Posted by Bauhaus I on January 7, 2014 at 4:12 PM · Report this
What's a Fatima?
Posted by sarah70 on January 7, 2014 at 4:46 PM · Report this
David Schmader 17
Nobody knows. But America needs it.
Posted by David Schmader on January 7, 2014 at 4:50 PM · Report this
Stop calling the Catholic League "them." It's a "him."
Posted by Pope Buck I on January 7, 2014 at 5:21 PM · Report this
Lissa 19
@16 & 17: It's a reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She appeared to some kids in Fatima Portugal about 100 years ago right around the time of the Russian revolution. She told them that if every one prayed the Rosary she'd free Russia from communism. There's a big shrine there. My great grandmother went on pilgrimage there and brought me back a medal.
Thus endeth the lesson. Pax vobiscum.
Posted by Lissa on January 7, 2014 at 10:02 PM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 20
@18 Oh, come on. Billy D must have at least one part-time web lackey, plus an assistant to book him on all those TV appearances. Three people is definitely "them."
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on January 8, 2014 at 9:25 AM · Report this
Where were they during "Book of Mormon"? I can't wait to see this production.
Posted by Ksings on January 9, 2014 at 11:56 AM · Report this

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