UPDATED, 11.45am 26 Oct 2004: This story has now been updated with further comment from Avalon on co-producer Allan McKeown’s issued statement.

The will-it, won’t-it shut tale of Jerry Springer - The Opera took a new twist late last night when co-producer Allan McKeown issued a statement disassociating himself from his partners at Avalon Promotions, who yesterday blamed the show’s potential demise on their libel case brought against the Daily Mail newspaper (See The Goss, 25 Oct 2004).

Although notices have not yet been officially posted – and despite an extension to October 2005 announced earlier this month (See News, 13 Oct 2004) - Jerry Springer is widely expected to close on 8 January 2005, at the end of its current booking period. Yesterday, a spokesperson at Avalon told Whatsonstage.com they are still hoping to secure a stay of execution for the multi award-winning musical at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre, where the show opened on 10 November 2003 (previews from 14 October), following a sell-out five-month run at the National, and where, this week, they must confirm whether or not they’ll be renewing their contract.

Avalon lays the blame for the show’s financial predicament at the door of the Daily Mail. Back in January, columnist Richard Kay wrote that the show was losing £40,000 a week at the box office and would soon be closing. After box office accounts were presented, the newspaper printed an apology in which Kay admitted that not only was he wrong but that the “hugely popular” show was indeed “making a healthy profit” (See The Goss, 12 Mar 2004). Nevertheless, on legal advice, Avalon pressed ahead in seeking damages of around £440,000.

In today’s statement, McKeown, a normally silent partner who is based in Los Angeles, distanced himself from this decision. He said that neither he 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... Avalon, acting alone, chose to bring a defamation action against the newspaper. The costs of any action are the sole responsibility of Avalon, should not be charged to the production nor affect the marketing of the show.”

He continued: “The show, which had won all the major awards including the Olivier Award for Best Musical, with its original cast, has been a critical and popular success. However, I recognise that since leaving the subsidised National Theatre the production has had problems of scale. As those problems of scale have not as yet been addressed, I have not been active in the management nor supported the show financially, since the departure of our original cast on 10 July 2004. However, I continue to be enthusiastic about the show prospects and firmly believe that at the right scale the show has the potential of an enormous success here in the US.”

The statement is the first publicly made by McKeown about the state of relations with Avalon. It corroborates rumours earlier this summer about a breakdown in the producers’ collaboration (See The Goss, 7 Jul 2004), and, as McKeown has put up a substantial portion of the show’s finances, also calls into further question moves for an American transfer. In April, Avalon announced that Jerry Springer - The Opera would open in San Francisco next spring ahead of a Broadway premiere in October 2005. Those plans are no longer certain.

According to Avalon, the Daily Mail’s original diary piece seriously damaged the show’s business prospects with major ticket agents and tour operators. An assessment of damages is due in December, but Avalon says the show may not be able to hang on for the High Court’s decision. Avalon’s Jon Thoday told the Independent yesterday that they’ve been unable to spend anything on promotion since the beginning of September: “We’ve been spending a lot of money on a court case that we should have been spending on marketing a show.”

In today’s Guardian, Thoday suggested that the show may yet be saved by its fans and company members, including contractors, creatives and cast members, who have been offering to waive or reduce fees as a means of support. Thoday told the newspaper: “They love the show and don’t want it to be brought down by the Daily Mail.”

According to Thoday, responding this morning to McKeown’s statement, the latter had agreed back in January/February that the lawsuit was indeed a “production issue”. He did not consider it feasible to halt the action once started. “If we were to drop it unilaterally, then we would have to pay the cost of the other side,” Thoday explained.

- by Terri Paddock