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From opera to Opry

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Dang me if I can figure out who'll be entertained by Das BarbecÜ at Aurora Theatre. The musical spoofs Richard Wagner's The Ring Cycle by transporting the Teutonic tale to Texas and replacing the arias with country-and-western twang.

Built around a frame of high culture inside jokes but packed like a sausage with kitschy redneck slapstick, Das Barbecü aims at some theoretical viewer who identifies equally with Frasier Crane and Jeff Foxworthy.

Das Barbecü shows surprising fidelity to Wagner's action and characters. In the introductory song, "A Ring of Gold in Texas," hula-hooping actresses explain how dashing hero Siegfried (rubber-bodied Brandon O'Dell) discovers a long-sought magic ring. Though Siegfried loves blue-jeaned warrior-woman BrÜnnhilde (Marcie Millard), he finds himself betrothed to man-hungry Gutrune (Aimee Ariel) as part of a plan by an evil dwarf (also played by O'Dell) to steal the ring.

Directed by David Crowe, the production creatively comes up with Texan bric-a-brac to match Wagnerian lore. Instead of pointed helmets, the Amazonian Valkyrie balance steakhouse-sized longhorns atop 10-gallon hats. But Das Barbecü's Southern stereotypes frequently threaten to become nasty parodies. Lyrics like, "Will I ever get the hang/of this man and woman thang?" and barnyard aphorisms like "You'd piss on a cripple's last cream puff" drip with condescension to the South, and only the actors' good cheer keeps the show from feeling like one long insult.

Das Barbecü's players seem cast more for their enthusiasm for silly physical comedy than their singing and dancing ability, although Millard demonstrates a forceful vocal range in the final number, "Turn the Tide." Among the quick-changing actors, Sandra Benton and Anthony Rodriguez juggle funny roles as various drawling gods and goofballs.

But Jim Luigs' bland, cloying country tunes, like "Hog-Tie Your Man" and "Barbecue for Two," sound better suited to Branson, Mo., than a honky-tonk roadhouse. Most of the musical numbers either provide unnecessary flashbacks or rely on comic relief that doesn't advance the plot. Like a pickup stuck in a mud puddle, Das Barbecü either travels backward or spins its wheels.

Das Barbecü plays through Oct. 24 at Aurora Theatre, 3087 Main St., Duluth. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. $18-$25. 770-476-7926. www.auroratheatre.com.

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