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A CurtainUp DC DC Logo Review
The Ring Cycle! The Musical

by Rich See

I want the ring, you stupid sock puppet!

Jill Vanderweit and Salma Quarnain
J. Vanderweit and S. Quarnain
(Photo: Amanda Williams)
First Nine, then the Valkyries. Latin lovers to Norse gods. Landless Theatre is churning out the musicals and there is something for everyone in this company's run of shows. With the DC premiere of Jeff Goode's wacky take on Richard Wagner's operas, The Ring Cycle! The Musical is made even wackier by Landless' "all for fun" treatment where the cast seems to be having as much glee putting on the show as the audience is in watching it.

Best known for The Eight Reindeer Monologues, Anger Box and Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays For Children, Goode's writing takes Wagner's operas and pulls them through a fun house mirror. He incorporates the entire cycle of the Ring of the Nibelungen, which includes Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. Considering it's a five person musical, he has accomplished quite a feat! Nothing, especially the storyline, is taken seriously, and so the irreverent treatment is especially appropriate for the late night showing that Landless is offering. Larrance Fingerhut's music is a mix of Wagner's opera and his own inspired creations (such as his fifties number). It flows well, even when the pianist has to dash out the backdoor for personal reasons. (Go see the play and you'll understand.)

Director Andrew Lloyd Baughman and his cast -- this seems like a group endeavor -- have gone a minimalist route in order to blend the staging in with their concurrent run of Nine and their children's show Fairy Tales From The Crypt. The staging is a simple gold wall (to represent the stolen gold of the Rhinemaidens, one presumes), the props are a mix of sock puppets, mermaid dolls, dragon costumes and of course the famous Viking hat and braids (which here look like Raggedy Ann's blonde cousin). In addition, Baughman and company have included nods to popular culture (especially Star Wars and Superman), which generate laughs.

So do you need to know Wagner's Ring Cycle to understand The Ring Cycle! The Musical? It helps, but you can easily follow the show without being an expert on the operas. The hijinks that writer Goode has thrown into his piece are meant to keep the action moving and to take you swiftly through Wagner's much, much, much longer work. Goode and Fingerhut condense, in a musical Reader's Digest fashion, Wagner's four-hour Die Walkure opera into fifteen minutes of mayhem. So you can follow the story fairly easily. Goode's lyrics are especially cute with lines like "I want his head for crimes against the marriage bed."

The hardest part is understanding the German names, which Landless could assist with by putting a synopsis of Wagner's Ring Cycle into a production program, along with a few key translations. Nothing elaborate, but a nice Cliff Notes-style run through would be helpful. Also, the show itself would fare better in a smaller venue than Gala Hispanic Theatre's Tivoli space; however one understands why the company is doing it here and at this time.

As each cast member takes on a number of roles -- some of them the same role -- I'll just cover a few highlights. Mr. Baughman looks like he is especially taking advantage of The Ring Cycle's silliness to relax after his tour of duty in the preceding Nine. His hopping around the stage as the giants Fasolt and Fafner and his ode to the Lord of the Rings is quite fun. Jill Vanderweit's turns as Brunnhilde and her lover Siegfried are well done as are her "Hoyotohos" Salma Quarnain humorously turns Fricka (goddess of marriage and fidelity) into a demanding wife and Sieglinda into a Brooklyn accented waitress pining for her freedom. And Darryl Winston brings a bit of class to the entire production with his baritone voice as he alternates between none too bright, henpecked Wotan (chief of the gods), tyrannical Hunding (husband of Sieglinda) and the production's "director&qut; who keeps insisting "They told me this was an equity show."

So go early, have a drink and enjoy a late night at the "opera."

The Ring Cycle! The Musical
By Jeff Goode
Music by Larrance Fingerhut
Directed by: Andrew Lloyd Baughman
with Andrew Lloyd Baughman, Jill Vanderweit, Salma Quarnain, Darryl Winston, Peter Vargo
Accompaniment: Mike Bartolomeo
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission
A production of Landless Theatre
Gala Hispanic Theatre at Tivoli, 3333 14th St NW
Telephone: 301-639-5265
FRI - SAT @10:30, $5-$10
Opening 03/25/05, closing 04/16/05
Reviewed by Rich See based on 03/26/05 performance
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