Das Barbecü

Original Cast Recording

2003: Fynsworth Alley 302 062 192 2

  1. A Ring of Gold in Texas
  2. What I Had in Mind
  3. Hog-Tie Your Man
  4. Makin’ Guacamole
  5. Rodeo Romeo
  6. County Fair
  7. Public Enemy Number .1
  8. A Little House for Me
  9. River of Fire
  10. If Not Fer You
  11. Slide a Little Closer
  12. Barbecue for Two
  13. After the Gold Is Gone
  14. Wanderin’ Man
  15. Turn the Tide

From the mid-1980s to early 1990s, I could have been considered a professional Scott Warrender fan, and if he hadn’t shifted to performance venues far beyond the reach of pedestrians (Issaquah?! oh please no!) I’d probably still be in that category. His musical-theatre songcrafting and wicked sense of humor are a delight, as is sharing the experience of his shows with good friends. It’s always irked and flummoxed me that nobody celebrates this guy’s oeuvre or even mentions it except fleetingly when he comes out with something new.

I remember seeing “Das Barbecü” at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1991, when Seattle Opera was doing its big Ring thing and Warrender concocted this goofy mess with Jim Luigs and that entirely-too-handsome Steven Terrell, and I don’t recall the actors’ names in that production offhand but am pretty sure this bunch isn’t the entire “original cast” credited on the CD cover; I may be wrong…Carolee Carmello’s name stands out as unfamiliar in any case. It’s the original off-Broadway cast, anyway.

If you don’t already know about the show’s premise (a rough retelling of Wagner’s “Götterdammerung” [the fourth opera in Der Ring des Nibelungen], but as a Texan comedy of errors performed by only five actors), I won’t attempt to outline it here: there are enough websites out there describing it just enough to convey the gist, and my memory of the original production isn’t strong enough on the storyline to add anything to it (except to note that the synchronized-swimming aqua-follies of the Rivermaidens was done with fake legs so hilariously that the audience quite dissolved with laughter). It’s enough to say that the plot is only marginally clearer than that of its spoofee. As a consequence, the songs are only held together as a set by the pervasive heavy Texas twang used throughout as broad caricature; so this album doesn’t come across as a revue (such as Warrender’s eternally delightful Texas Chainsaw Manicurist) but can’t tell the story through the songs alone…without even the too-brief synopsis provided in the CD’s booklet, or a personal viewing of the show, this CD would make no sense at all.

Having said all that, this is one hell of a funny musical.

The Texas-style exaggeration of everything comes through in the lyrics, with Warrender and Luigs clustering all kinds of clever wit into every couplet they can construct. One of the joys of a Scott Warrender musical (and what makes attending them such an exhausting experience) is in being assaulted by so much well-aimed humor that comes at you in the form of the lyrics, the costumes, the choreography, the acting, the set (if any), and sometimes even the music itself. You can get a good taste of that experience from these recordings of “Hog-Tie Your Man” and “Makin’ Guacamole,” especially, but also from the opening track (the would-be expository “A Ring of Gold in Texas” which almost has the opposite effect of its intended clarification of the storyline and includes the impressive and intentionally incorrect line “Once more: there was ore galore on the floor of this reservoir”).

On the other side of the coin, there’s Warrender’s gorgeous feel for heart-tugging melodic pieces and slightly oddball or over-the-top harmonies, elements which make listening to this album a joy even without the benefit of the production itself. The harmonies in “Hog-Tie Your Man” are tight and fun (one of the three girl-group singers is a guy, which makes the arrangement even more intriguing) but probably the best examples here of the kind of stuff Warrender can thrill your spine with in his ensemble writing are on “A Ring of Gold in Texas” and perhaps at the end of “If Not Fer You.” But there’s not quite anything on the level of, say, his mesmerizing arrangements of, say, “The January” and “Beautiful Evening” in The January Book.

And those couplets? Here are my favorites:

Scott’s great.