Rolf Saxon will take the title role in the upcoming tour of Jerry Springer - The Opera (See News, 20 Sep 2005), starring alongside many of the controversial musical’s original principals from the West End and National Theatre runs including Valda Aviks (Zandra/Mary), Wills Morgan (Montel/Jesus) and Benjamin Lake (Dwight/God - pictured), who won the 2003/4 Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Newcomer of the Year for his London performances.

The tour will open on 23 January 2006 at Plymouth Theatre Royal before continuing, until 8 July 2006, to Birmingham, York, Leicester, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Norwich, Bristol, Bradford, Southend, Liverpool, Cardiff, Nottingham, Croydon and Brighton.

Saxon’s West End credits include Chicago, The Graduate, Lost in Yonkers, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and The Seven Year Itch, while he’s appeared elsewhere in The Price, Blues for Mr Charlie, Three on a Couch, Clouds, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, A View from the Bridge, Oleanna and Chapter Two. His many screen credits include The Eagle, Ultimate Force, The Canterville Ghost, Goodnight Sweetheart, Poirot, Entrapment, Saving Private Ryan, Mission Impossible and The Dirty Dozen.

The tour cast will also feature Carrie Ellis (as Peaches/Baby Jane), Nathan Harmer (Chucky/Adam), Dean Hussain (Warm Up Man/Devil), Trevor Jary (Tremont/Gabriel), Johan Pearson (Steve), Helen Walsh (Shawntel/Eve) and Annabelle Williams (Andrea).

Originally due to launch from Manchester in October 2005, last March, when 11 of the 36 regional theatres due to receive the musical pulled out following protests from religious pressure group Christian Voice, the tour was postponed until the start of this year (See News, 17 Mar 2005). The 21 remaining venues helped save the tour by pooling marketing resources and rescheduling their programmes to absorb gaps left by drop-outs and thus reducing potential financial losses (See News, 20 Sep 2005).

Promising "triumph, tragedy and trailer trash as high art meets low", Jerry Springer - The Opera is based on America's most lurid talk show host who has broadcast programmes such as "Pregnant by a Transsexual", "Here Come the Hookers" and "I Refuse to Wear Clothes". In the musical, Springer suffers the worst day of his career, during which he's taken from his studio to both heaven and hell, confronting some of his bizarre guests.

Religious protestors believe that, aside from the expletive-laden score, the most offensive aspects of the musical are the depictions of God as an impotent fool and Jesus as a nappy-wearing black man who admits he’s “a little bit gay”. In January 2005, Christian Voice spearheaded a campaign against BBC Two’s broadcast of Jerry Springer, generating a record 45,000 complaints as well as several death threats (See News, 5 Jan 2005), though the unedited broadcast attracted an audience of 2.4 million (a record TV viewing figure for a musical or opera). The same evangelical organisation also succeeded in halting proceeds from a performance of the West End production being donated to cancer charity, Maggie’s Centres (See The Goss, 23 Feb 2005).

A cult hit in concert form at BAC and the Edinburgh Fringe, the full-fledged version of Jerry Springer - The Opera had its world premiere on 29 April 2003 at the National Theatre, where it had an extended, sell-out season running in repertory for five months at the NT Lyttelton. In November 2003, it transferred to the West End’s Cambridge Theatre, where it closed this in February 2005 (See News, 12 Jan 2005). Amongst its many plaudits, the show - written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, who also directed it – won four Best Musical prizes at the Olivier, Critics’ Circle, Evening Standard and’s own Theatregoers’ Choice Awards.

- by Terri Paddock