Review: ‘DAS BARBECÜ’ at Spotlighters Theatre

DAS BARBECÜ, as directed by Greg Bell, and with Book and Lyrics by Jim Luigs, was a rousing and at times, funny-bone-breaking re-telling of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, reimagined as a Texas fable with merely five actors portraying over 30 characters. Scott Warrender wrote the music for this Country and Western, musical comedy (which premiered at the Seattle Opera in 1991), and Spotlighters Theatre’s Michael W. Tan musically directed the zany proceedings, a pop-Wagnerian mashup of TV soap operas like “Dallas” and classic stage operas. Warrender told the story of how the show came to be in this 2013 interview:

Part of the fun of the show was deciphering Wagner’s complicated plots, made all the more fun by the cast, which brought so many varied characters to life. The basic elements of the Ring Cycle are: a cursed ring of power; a hero knight in love with a demi-god female; a wise “old head” who lords it over his family.

These elements were brought to vitality by the Company, which consisted of 35-year stage veteran Andrea Bush;  Allison Comotto, who recently graced the Spotlighters stage as Toffee in Zombie Prom; returner-to-the-stage-after-time-away-er Jim Gross; Clare Kneebone, who was wonderful as Susan in Spotlighters Tick, Tick…BOOM!; and Rob Wall, who shared the stage with Kneebone in that same show, playing Michael.

The cast of ‘DAS BARBECÜ. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photograph.
The cast of ‘DAS BARBECÜ. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

The show started off with the impressive “A Ring of Gold in Texas” by the Company, the lyrics of which explained (or came close to) what the audience was about to see, basically the saga of Siegfried (Wall) and his fiancée Brünnhilde (Kneebone) and a wicked ring. Bush effectively served as the Narrator as the Company wrapped up the opening number.

“What I Had in Mind,” which featured Brünnhilde, Siegfried, Gutrune (Comotto), and Gunther (Gross), and the up-tempo “Hog-Tie Your Man” moved the story along; the later featured the The Norn Triplets, three lovely ladies, Comotto, Kneebone and Wall (hilarious in drag). Poor Siegfried wound up betrothed to both Brunnhilde (Kneebone) and Gutrune (Comotto), half-brother of the sinister (but in this show cartoon-like) Hagan (Gross).

“Rodeo Romeo”, which featured Siegfried, Gutrune (Comotto) and Back Up Singer (Bush), addressed Siegfried’s “hunting for a honey.” Then, Kneebone killed the neat little love lullaby, “Country Fair” as Brünnhilde.

Claire Kneebone. Photo by
Allison Comotto. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

The Texas Rangers and the dwarf Alberich (gold thief and all-around shady guy, played by Wall, who sported a seriously over-sized, black Yosemite Sam looking, 50-gallon hat), belted “Public Enemy Number 1.” The Company reprised “A Ring of Gold in Texas” to bring Act I to a rousing close.

Fricka, Wotan’s wife (Bush, who was at her best in that role) and Freia (Comotto), wonderfully opened Act 2 with “A Little House for Me.” Jim Gross’ solo, “River of Fire” in which he bemoans the havoc raised by the cursed ring, was sung in a way that pulled the audience deeper, emotionally, into the story.

When I watched Wotan and Alberich conspire for no good as it pertained to the hapless Siegfried, I was brought back to the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Their scene brought much mirth to the show; Gross and Wall then broke into “If Not for You.”

The apex of the show was Wall and Kneebone, in their duet “Slide a Little Closer.” They both  demonstrated a strong chemistry. “Rancho Gibich, Behind the Chapel at the Barbecue Buffet” was sung impressively by Kneebone and Gutrune (Comotto).

While I enjoyed the dancing and singing of the Rivermaidens (Bush, Comotto and Kneebone) of “After the Gold is Gone,” I thought the prop, swimming pool set they “swam” in could have been staged to look more water-like. Bell and Jillian Bauersfeld’s choreography was strong here. “Wanderin’ Man” was a somber, reflective song, well done by Siegfried and Fricka.

What would a Wagnerian opera be without The Valkyries? In this case, The Valkyries were frightfully good, and played by Bush and Comotto, did what Valkyries do best, led the dead to Valhalla—domain of the Gods.

Andrea Bush. Photo by hoto by Shealyn Jae Photography.
Andrea Bush. Photo by hoto by Shealyn Jae Photography.

Bush, as the clairvoyant Erda, and Kneebone and Gross brought power and energy to “Turn the Tide.” The Company energetically brought the show to a rousing crescendo with “Fire & Water.”

Director Bell kept the energy at a high voltage throughout. Lead Costumer Andrew Malone kept his actors in outrageous costumes, including the ladies’ Dolly-Partonesque, blue mini-skirts, and the men’s assortment of cowboy attire and Wall’s aforementioned, Saturday-morning cartoon hat.

Much deserved credit goes to Musical Director/Keyboardist Michael Tan, percussionist William Georg, and guitarist John Jeffries for keeping the tunes flowing and playing the score so well. I liked Set Designer Alan Zemla’s ready-made barbeque-laden table (with glued-on plates and aluminum-foiled draped pans).

With its uber-talented, superior energy-filled cast, DAS BARBECÜ is a well-performed retelling of Wagner’s operas—Texas style. Two-step yourself and your partner to Spotlighters and see it. Yeehaw!

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

DAS BARBECÜ plays through October 30, 2016 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St Paul Street, Baltimore,  MD. There will be a cast “Talk Back” session after the Sunday, October 23rd show. For tickets, call (410) 752-1225 or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1550.gif



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