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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

ACT Theatre Serves Up a Hearty Helpin' of Das Barbecü

Also see David's review of Catch Me If You Can

Das Barbecu
Jennifer Sue Johnson, Carter J. Davis and Billie Wildrick (The Norn Triplets)
What with Wagner's Ring Cycle back at Seattle Opera this summer, what more perfect time for ACT Theatre to revive Jim Luigs and Scott Warrender's CliffsNotes-sized, country westernized Ring riff  Das Barbecü?  Add to that the welcome return of director/choreographer Stephen Terrell and a game, talented and apparently tireless cast, and you have purty near everything you need to insure a fine old time at the theatre.

Das Barbecü is basically Wagner reset at Southfork (the Ewing clan's compound in the vintage TV soap Dallas), only here the homestead is called Valhalla, and J.R., Miss Ellie and company are replaced by the likes of Wotan, Fricka and Siegfried. Luigs' book cleverly and craftily encapsulates as many of the key characters and events from the Wagner original (primarily "Götterdämmerung") as a two-hour running time can permit, so one need not fear being opera-challenged in attending this down-home horse opera. The cast continually helps catch us up and clarify the plot strands, at least as far as they can be. Wotan and Fricka are the perpetually feudin' patriarch and matriarch of the tale, Siegfried is the singin' cowboy who rescued his sweetie Brünnhilde from 20 years of banishment on a mountain, only to nearly be trapped into marriage by the trashy, tacky, yet ultimately good-hearted Gutrune.  Throw in the Rhine maidens who here are aquacade performers, a dwarf, a half dwarf, and such and you have, as Sondheim wrote, "Comedy Tonight."

Director Terrell (who hails from the Lone Star state) keeps the show clippin' along in the bite-sized book scenes, and choreographs the musical numbers with a swinging and sashaying abandon. His expert cast rustles up chuckles and smidges of heartfelt heartbreak with equal aplomb. Anne Allgood nails Fricka's southern hostess haughtiness, and then slides into her other guises with unerring panache and vocal expertise.  Billie Wildrick as Brünnhilde adds another trophy performance to her growing list and makes something really special out of one of composer Warrender's most wistful tunes, "County Fair," before showing off her comic chops in the hilarious duet "Barbecue for Two" opposite Jennifer Sue Johnson's gutsy Gutrune. Ms. Johnson, an always solid actress, shows off her musical comedy wares here for the first time in my memory, and makes the narrative song "A Little House for Me" (in which Fricka's sister Freia relates her adventures with a pair of giants) a real highpoint of the production. Marvelous character actor Richard Ziman shows off his own underused but appealing voice on Wotan's "River of Fire" and has a grand time with dwarf Alberich (Carter J. Davis) on their caustic duet "If Not For You." Davis transforms delightfully from dwarf to heartthrob Siegfried to leggy country gal as needed, and shows off his rich voice in tandem with Allgood on the haunting "Wanderin' Man." The accomplished cast is well served by Richard Gray's rock-solid musical direction and the expert musical support they receive from Gray and his unseen quartet of musicians.

David Zinn can take a deep bow for his well-appointed and versatile scenic design, and a flock of costumes that appear to have been raided from the Grand Ole Opry and Dollywood. Alex Berry is in fine form lighting the proceedings as well.

Das Barbecü, too long unseen in these parts, is rightly back in Seattle where it belongs. Y'all go to ACT and see fer yerself!

Das Barbecü plays Tuesdays-Sundays through September 6 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle; $10-$55 (206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.)


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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