You might not get the plot, but you’ll get a fabulous dinner—along with a hoot n’ hollerin’ good time at On Site Opera’s current production of Das Barbecü at Hill Country Barbecue Restaurant. Book writer and lyricist Jim Luigs and composer Scott Warrender’s spoof on Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has been kickin’ around for nearly 30 years. It first premiered in 1991 at Seattle Opera. That was followed by out of town runs at Goodspeed Opera and Baltimore’s Center Stage Theater. Eventually, it blew into town and took up residency Off-Broadway the Minetta Lane Theater.
The cast of On Site Opera’s current production had some mighty big boots to fill, for the original Off-Broadway production starred stage legends Carolee Carmello, Sally Mayes, and JK Simmons. Nonetheless, this current bunch covers quite a lot of territory—and multiple characters over the course of 2.5 hours. And although this is a young crew, they each bring a great deal of hilarity and good-heartedness to the 4 to 6 characters each of ’em inhabit.
Luigs obviously knew that it would be a Herculean feat to compress the entire plot into one relatively quick night of musical theater. After all, the complete Ring Cycle clocks in at around 17 hours over the course of several days. Even a flip chart at the top of the show can’t help, as our Narrator (Zuri Washington) says,
”Look at ‘em! Their eyes is glazed over! They’re on information overload!”
But she reassures us, stating that,
“There’s this magic ring that was made from some magic gold that lay at the bottom of a river for centuries, watched over by three lovely river maidens. One day they were tricked out of their gold by an evil dwarf who then used the gold to make a magic ring..a ring as powerful as it is cursed.”
Well, at least we’ll all get a rough idea of what they’s singin’ about.
Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter. So much of Warrender’s music is played with toe-tappin’ twang by a fabulous female ensemble (Conductor/Keyboard: Emily Senturia Keyboard: Riko Higuma Guitars: Liz Faure Fiddle: Victoria Paterson Drums: Clara Warnaar). Much of it has the same feel as The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, or more recently, the Off-Broadway smash Desperate Measures—another parody that turned Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure on its head.
So many of the tunes here could be performed out of context. In that sense, it feels like a good old-fashioned country-western concert.
One wishes that the sightlines would be better. While a barbecue restaurant is an ideal setting for this retelling that takes place in modern-day Texas, the use of all four quadrants is a strain on the neck and is too often tough to see. It also doesn’t help that the stereo from the upstairs portion of the restaurant bleeds into the proceedings.
Still, directors Eric Einhorn and Katherine M. Carter have made the most of the space, immersing the audience into the silly antics that this Southern town has concocted. Best of all, there’s a brisket, roast chicken, bourbon mash sweet potatoes, and mac and cheese preceding the affair. It’s sure to make even the most opera resistant cowboy or cowgirl whoop n’ holler.
Oh-and did I mention the cornbread? Yee-haw!
Das Barbecu runs through February 11 at Hill Country Barbecue (30 West 26th between 5th and 6th, NYC). For tickets and information, click here.