Melissa Coulter was thrilled when she was asked to direct a show at Ghostlight Theatre. What she didn't yet know was that the show, Das Barbecü, is actually a musical comedy loosely based on Richard Wagner's four-hour Ring opera, is performed in country-western style, and calls for a fairly large cast of about 15 people.

Phew. And, not to add heat or anything, but this show has never been performed in the Quad Cities area. That's quite a tall order to fill, but Coulter and the rest of the Ghostlight crew seem up to the challenge of presenting such a spur-jangling musical over the next two weekends.

Das Barbecü was written in 1993 by Jim Luigs. Set in Texas, the action follows a magic golden ring as it passes hands and eventually ends up with a cowboy/singer named Sigfried. Now, apparently, whoever possesses the ring becomes a royalty figure, so that makes good old Siggy pretty attractive to all the cowgirls. He falls in love with a purty little thing named Brunhilde, but there's also a filly named Getrune after his heart. So, the tale progresses, and Sigfried and Brunhilde end up engaged to different people (who happen to be brother and sister). Meanwhile, back at the ranch, all the townspeople are still interested in possessing the magic ring, struggles ensue, and families reunite.

In her director's notes, Coulter sums up the action of the show by quoting one of its lyrics: "Love and sex and Texas all combined / That's exactly what I had in mind." So as you can see, this isn't exactly a typical "why, howdy pardner" western. Nope. Das Barbecü is an entirely complicated, lust- and love-driven mix of relationships and cowboy boots that provides lots of good fun, and even better music.

Scott Warrander contributed the smartly written musical score to this quirky comedy, which Coulter describes as leaning toward the country-western style but also having vaudevillian influences. Some of the more unique song titles are "Hogtie Your Man," "Makin' Guacomole," and "Barbecue for Two." A pit crew provides the live tunes to accompany a cast of incredibly talented and diverse singers, who range from high-school novices to professional adult actors.

Coulter says there are so many young people involved in Das Barbecü because its executive producer, Dr. Walter Neiswanger (see sidebar), wanted local high-schoolers to have a chance to become more involved in the arts. "He has been enthusiastically involved with the entire production," Coulter said of Neiswanger, "attending every rehearsal, and getting to know all the people on the crew."

I'll second her comment about Neiswanger's incredible enthusiasm. I briefly attended the first dress rehearsal, and he was clad in full cowboy gear - bolo and all!

And there's enthusiasm all around as the big barbecue prepares to open on Friday night. Judging from the small yet rollicking portion of the dress rehearsal I saw, Das Barbecü has the boot-scootin' potential to be one of the Quad Cities' hottest musicals of the summer.

Das Barbecü will be presented at Davenport North High School Auditorium on August 29 and 30 and September 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. For ticket information, call 441-4849.

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