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Horse Opera

Wagner Camps Out in the Lone Star State

(From left) Stuart Goldstone, Cristen Susong, and Heather Beck in the Vagabonds' Das Barbecü

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 9/26/2001

Das Barbecü

Music by Scott Warrender, book and lyrics by Jim Luigs

You've got to give Jim Luigs credit for coming up with a truly loony premise--treat the self-mythologizing natives of the outsized state of Texas as if they were characters in Richard Wagner's outsized, mythic Ring Cycle. Wotan, Brunnhilde, Fricka, the Valkyries, and the rest of that Germanic tribe now wear country-western garb, dance a two-step, and sing with a twang.

When Das Barbecü was first heard 'round these parts in a boisterous Center Stage production in 1994, it was easy to get into the silly spirit of things. If the current Vagabond Players' production isn't quite as much fun, the reason is in large part logistical: Center Stage's bigger stage and budget translated to costuming and choreography that seemed sprung from the imagination of Busby Berkeley on peyote.

The Vagabonds' version obviously has to make do with less. Its Texas-born director, Terry Long, is no stranger to camp (his stage credits include Pageant and Tony and Tina's Wedding), and he has an energetic cast willing to go the campy distance with him. Though spare, the sets and costumes are evocative. And the only man making music, Robert Gee at the keyboards, brings the material to life.

Das Barbecü is certainly good for a giggle as Dallas-type characters sporting Wagnerian names engage in soap-operatic romantic intrigue down by the barbecue pit. But with less campy spectacle to distract you, there's more time to realize that the music by Scott Warrender and Luigs' book and lyrics are just skimming the surface of the Wagnerian connection; it's basically just an excuse for silliness. Although there's nothing wrong with that, the goofy proceedings start to wear thin before the fat lady and the others have finished singing.

What'll keep you with this production is that its actors are having such a good time. Heather Marie Beck, Cristen Susong, Laura Cosner, Gregory Bell, and Stuart Goldstone embody about 30 characters, shifting identities at the drop of a cowboy hat. They positively shout their lines, which is appropriate for the material, if a bit irritating after a while. Not surprisingly, all that vocal exertion leads to some strained singing.

There also are lovely vocal moments, however, as when Goldstone's Siegfried and Cosner's Brunnhilde sing the love duet "Slide a Little Closer." All parody aside, this is an emotionally tender number. Goldstone in particular is well-suited for such songs in such a show. This actor brings a naive enthusiasm to every situation he encounters along the way, be it mundane or mythological. Goldstone really seems to believe in this Wagnerian take on Texas, and he may well turn you into a believer too.

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