Stephen Hope and Joanna Parson in FST's Das Barbecu. Photo by Maria Lyle
With the summer heat, local stages often turn to lighter fare, and Florida Studio Theatre has launched its summer season with Das Barbecu, a musical comedy set in Texas but based, loosely, on Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle. It’s a show I remembered, if a bit vaguely, from an Asolo Rep production almost 20 years ago, as being entertaining with its depiction of the composer’s gods and men as cowboy/cowgirl types beset by problems related to that much fought over ring of gold and the malevolent dwarf, Alberich.
But something has changed, either with me or the show, or perhaps this collaboration between Jim Luigs (book and lyrics) and Scott Warrender (music) just doesn’t hold up all that well. In any case, I found myself smiling occasionally at the FST production, but certainly not emitting the guffaws Das Barbecu aims for.
It’s not the fault of the hard-working cast, five in all but essaying some 30 characters during the course of the evening, with a great deal of verve and versatility. Chief among the inhabitants of this transplanted version of the story are quarreling couple Wotan (Stephen Hope) and Fricka (Joanna Parson), each unhappy in their own way at their lavish spread, Valhalla. She turns to topiary; he to a dalliance with Erda (also Parson), whose daughter, Brunhilde (Billie Wildrick), is the love object of the hero, Siegfried (Joshua Carter), who in turn is sought after by Gutrune (Maria Couch), whose brother, Gunther (also Hope), has his own hopes for Brunhilde. It will all be familiar to opera buffs, but you don’t have to know the original to get the gist of it here, especially since the opening number, Ring of Gold in Texas, sets it up for us.
That setup makes it seem like it all should be fun, and there are certainly good moments, as when Gutrune and Brunhilde, at their failed double wedding, gorge themselves on the bridal banquet, or when the River Maidens, condemned to performing in an aqua show, resort to using the bottom halves of mannequins to demonstrate their swim routines. And there are also a couple of nice, slow country songs, like Slide a Little Closer and County Fair, to alternate with the more comedic tunes.
But, absurd as it may be to say it about a show that distills Wagner’s mammoth cycle into a little over two hours, it feels like Das Barbecu could use some cuts to keep our interest from flagging. It just feels less lively and more contrived than one expects.
The band (playing behind the type of chicken wire barricade that works for the country bar set design) is fine, and the singing mostly good, too. I enjoyed Carter’s work as Alberich (particularly that back-breaking crouch he manages) and Parson as the desperate housewife, Fricka. I just wanted to like the whole thing more than I did.
Das Barbecu continues through July 15 at FST’s Keating Theatre; call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org for tickets.