The on-again, off-again tour of Jerry Springer - The Opera is back on again. The resurrection of the production, which is being hailed as a victory for “freedom of speech and artistic freedom”, has been made possible by “unprecedented” co-operation between producers at Avalon and the 21 participating regional theatres, who will meet at Birmingham Hippodrome this Wednesday to direct their individual promotional budgets towards a national marketing campaign.

Originally due to launch from Manchester next month, in 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 2006 (See News, 17 Mar 2005). This past January, the same evangelical organisation spearheaded a campaign against the BBC’s broadcast of Jerry Springer, generating a record 45,000 complaints as well as several death threats (See News, 5 Jan 2005). It also succeeded in halting proceeds from a performance of the show being donated to cancer charity, Maggie’s Centres (See The Goss, 23 Feb 2005).

The loss of 30% of its tour venues was “debilitating”, according to Avalon, which subsequently applied to Arts Council England (ACE) to subsidise the production. That application was rejected last month, putting any future performances of the musical in jeopardy (See News, 15 Aug 2005). A show spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com that, in addition to pooling marketing resources, the 21 remaining venues have helped save the tour by rescheduling their programmes to absorb gaps left by drop-outs and thus reducing potential financial losses.

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”. BBC Two’s unedited broadcast in January attracted a television audience of 2.4 million (a record TV viewing figure for a musical or opera).

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 past February (See News, 12 Jan 2005). Last year, 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 Whatsonstage.com’s own Theatregoers’ Choice Awards.

Many of the 21 participating regional theatres have also added their vocal support to the production. “We believe it is important that the show is seen and judged for what it is – a splendid piece of musical theatre,” said Theatre Royal Newcastle’s Grahame Morris. Wales Millennium Centre marketing director Fiona Allan added: “Jerry Springer - The Opera may be controversial, but then again, art should both challenge and entertain us, and history is full of controversial pieces of art, which to us today appear tame.”

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. No casting has yet been confirmed for the regional dates, though previous stars, including Michael Brandon and David Soul who successively played the title role, will be approached.

- by Terri Paddock