Theater Review

Country and Western Wagner

Das Barbecü has Southern-fried fun with The Ring

By Steve Wiecking August 12, 2009

The entire cast starts singin’ ’bout the ring and thangs at ACT. (photo courtesy Chris Bennion)

Das Barbecü, a Texas-flavored musical spoof of The Ring cycle, serves up perfectly respectable silliness. As a general rule, silliness shouldn’t be perfectly respectable. Silliness is much more fun when it comes with large dollops of dangerous lunacy and mischievous weirdness on the side—both of which are missing here. But I laughed for most of the show’s two hours and smiled through the rest so there you are.

And you don’t have to be well-versed in Wagner’s epic in order to enjoy yourself.

The five-person ensemble—Anne Allgood, Carter J. Davis, Jennifer Sue Johnson, Billie Wildrick, and Richard Ziman—steps out to sing on a stage that could pass for some rural Grange Hall’s proudest moment. A steer’s skull hangs over star-spangled set pieces which rise up from the floor and push forward from the wall without asking for applause about it. My best regards to scenic designer David Zinn, who also had a good time with the costumes—in particular a wedding dress that lives up to a line of dialogue describing the gown as “Annie goddamn Oakley at her first communion.”

The actors begin to summarize all of Wagner’s dizzying tale of love, lust and power-hungry deception in the first twangy tune. Allgood stops the attempt after noting the audience’s confusion. “Look at ’em,” she says. “Their eyes is glazed over.” Essentially, Allgood tells us, various people in Texas want a ring that holds great power and the rest will explain itself soon enough.

Though Jim Luigs’s book and lyrics (ripe with white trash wisecracks) share with Scott Warrender’s bouncy score a generosity that allows each cast member his or her chance to shine, you’d swear Allgood grabs all the choice words. No matter what wig she’s wearing—everybody plays multiple roles and sings with cheerful aplomb—you’re always happy to see her saunter back on stage again to croon something along the lines of “When ever will I get the hang/Of this man and woman thang?” (That’s Fricka’s lament, for you Ring buffs).

The show fondly pokes at the gargantuan ridiculousness of opera in general and The Ring in particular. Brunhilde (Wildrick, sounding sweeter than ever) explains her prior predicament thusly: “I was asleep for 20 years. On a rock. Ringed with fire. Don’t ask.”

But it lets us care for its tacky Texans, too. Brunhilde and her befuddled beau Siegfried (Carter J. Davis)—separated by shenanigans involving a drugged drink and, eventually, a dastardly dwarf—sing a charmed “Slide a Little Closer” duet that wouldn’t shame a serious country and western musical.

If anything, director/choreographer Stephen Terrell does so right by the people that he sometimes goes wrong with the spoofing. In Act Two, just when the plot starts to pile on the death and disaster, the show gets a little torn up about its tongue-in-cheekery. It turns sweet and likable instead of roaring into something truly outrageous. Daring zaniness is not the order of the day.

You will, though, enjoy a water ballet, so all is not lost. And you can always take Allgood’s drawled advice: “When life presents you with a challenge too big to ignore you either marry it, shoot it, burp it, or move.”

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