You don’t have to know anything about composer Richard Wagner to laugh your head off at this season’s collaboration between Lyric Opera and Second City, Longer! Louder! Wagner! And if you do, you’ll also have a great time. The talented folks behind this irreverent spoof (and on the stage) have managed to make it work for everyone.
Except maybe those who don’t like jokes about Germany. Since the subject is the 19th-century genius/jerk whose music is known as Hitler’s favorite soundtrack, everything from the glockenspiel to Angela Merkel is fair game, along with the composer’s silk undies and the ardor of his patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria—which might have led to “the first known case of gay for pay.”
Unlike the previous Second City-Lyric collaboration, The Second City Guide to the Opera, a series of sketches, this show is has a single narrative line. It goes like this: Richard Wagner has a great-grandson, Fred Wagner, living in Schaumburg. Although he’s an opera director, Fred has avoided the gravitas of his lineage by working on more modest new projects, like an opera about cupcakes. Soon after we meet him, however, Fred is struck by the spirit of his famous progenitor and inspired to direct Richard’s four-opera epic, the Ring cycle. Next thing you know, he’s doing it at the epicenter of Wagnerian production, the Festspielhaus built by Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, Germany. And he’s discovered a brilliant new Brünnhilde, fresh off her job at Jiffy Lube.
That’s the bare bones on which 90 giddy minutes of belly laughs and music is hung. The cast consists of a half dozen flawlessly funny Second City veterans and a pair of operatic singers, soprano Tracy Cantin and bass Jonah D. Winston, so accomplished onstage that until they let loose with the megavoices you can’t distinguish them from the sketch and improv masters. Tim Ryder is winning as the initially self-effacing Fred; music director and composer Jesse Case deliciously channels Richard Wagner while providing the show’s accompaniment on a grand piano. Randall Harr, Sayjal Joshi, Alice Stanley Jr., and Travis Turner pop in and out of multiple characters in Schaumburg, Bavaria, Valhalla, and a WFMT broadcast booth. Tim Sniffen wrote the script; Anneliese Toft directs, and the whole thing unfolds on a back-of-the-opera house rehearsal stage.
If you’re thinking Hershey Felder crossed with The Producers, you’ve got the vibe.
Longer! Louder! Wagner! 10/27-10/30: Thu 7 PM, Fri 2 and 7 PM, Sat 2 PM, Sun 1 and 4 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, civicoperahouse.org, $35-$65, sold out.