`Das Barbecu,' A Saucy Take On `Ring' Circus

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"Das Barbecu." Directed by Stephen Terrell. Music by Scott Warrender, book and lyrics by Jim Luigs. Produced by A Contemporary Theatre, 100 W. Roy. Tuesdays-Sundays through Sept. 3. 285-5110.

In their frisky musical romp "Das Barbecu," composer Scott Warrender and author-lyricist Jim Luigs pull off quite a rodeo trick.

Basically, they've roped and hog-tied Richard Wagner's daunting epic opera, "Der Ring des Nibelungen," slathered it with barbecue sauce and domesticated the dang thing into a sort of Broadway country and western soap opera - a singing, mythifying "Dallas," complete with Lone Star Valkyries; a home-on-the-range Ring of Fire; and drawling, double-dealing Texas misfits.

Four years after premiering at the PONCHO Forum as a lighthearted companion piece to the 1991 "Ring" cycle at Seattle Opera, "Das Barbecu" is back for an encore. This time, A Contemporary Theatre is presenting the "dessert course" to Seattle Opera's Wagnerian entree.

There's clearly a hankering for such spoofy "Barbecu." Since its debut, the show has been mounted in five other U.S. cities, and gained four additional Warrender-Luigs tunes.

The new ACT version sports a blazing, quick-changing five-member cast, staged with whiz-bang verve by gifted Stephen Terrell - the show's original (and current) choreographer.

Newcomers to "Das Barbecu" might well wonder: Does one need a Cliff's Notes guide to Wagner's "Ring" to follow this spin-off? And will non-opera buffs give a baked bean about it?

Surely, "Ring" lovers can expect a bigger kick out of Luig's clever appropriation of the tangled Wagnerian plot than opera naysayers.

But enjoying Texas-style verbal badinage and caricature, along with soft-core country sounds, are more important prerequisites. And even with that, to borrow a pithy phrase from one character, the show can at times feel like an extended "cartoon of ostentatious Texas vulgarity."

Which it is. But that's sort of the pointless point. The delicious fun of "Das Barbecu" is the deadpan way it superimposes the weirdest ancient Germanic lore onto a batch of down-home, straight-shootin' folk. And the way it conflates the "Ring" plot into a series of casual outtakes.

Fricka (Susannah Mars) and her philandering husband, Wotan (John Patrick Lowrie), take it in stride that everyone they know is desperate to get hold of a magic golden ring.

Nor does it seem all that strange to the cowpoke Siegfried (Jerry McGarity) that he's been "distracted" by a love potion pressed on him by amorous Gutrune (Sandra Singler) and her narcoleptic brother Hagen (Lowrie), which causes Siggy to ditch his fiance Brunnhilde (Vickielee Wohlbach) - a gal with some eerie skeletons in her saddlebag.

And what about the flying pig, the evil dwarf Alberich, the prairie sorceress Erda, the construction-men giants? "Hey, it takes all kinds," seems to be the homespun philosophy here - which just increases the absurdity quotient.

"Das Barbecu" could use less of its bulky first act. But the Warrender score goes down sweet, slick and sunny throughout, with only one stickable tune (the gentle two-step, "Slide A Little Closer") but plenty of nimble parodies.

A couple favorites: "After the Gold is Gone," a tweak of both Wagner's Rivermaidens and Busby Berkeley's water nymphs, and "Hog-Tie Your Man," a hilarious stomper with S&M undertones and cool lasso moves by Terrell.

The cast convey all this silly stuff with great style and adroitness, especially the ladies - who sing like doves and sharpshoot Luigs' zinger jokes. Singler's cowgirl-from-hell Gutrune is a stitch. Wholbach captures the goofy innocence of Brunnhilde. And Mars is quite spectacular as Fricka, Erda, Needa and the big-haired narrator who periodically asks, "Y'all confused yet?"

Both guys and gals have been expertly costumed in fanciful western gear by Catherine Hunt. And the lilting harmonies are supported by a five-piece country combo, led by that old Bellevue cowboy, Scott Warrender, on piano.