Several decades ago, two bright college kids thought it would be really cool to write a rock version of one of their favorite operas: Das Rheingold (the first of the four Richard Wagner “Ring Cycle” operas). Heck, this was the source material for The Lord of the Rings, so how fabulous is that.
And thus was born, Rhinegold, music by Jim Steinman and lyrics by Barry Keating. Steinman, who died in April, 2021, went on to build a stellar career in music, especially in writing megahit songs for the likes of Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply and many, many more.
Rhinegold was produced back then and it had the young André De Shields starring in it. The show ran from June 11-19 at the Mercer Arts Center, in 1973, and from March 29-April 5 at Playwrights Horizons in 1975. In 1977 Steinman and Keating auditioned Rhinegold for the opening season of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s new Theater Cabaret but were not successful.
Now, many years later, Keating decided to produce a concert version of Rhinegold in Steinman’s memory; it hasn’t been staged since the 1970s and exists only in audio recordings and photos. And so on the Laurie Beechman Theatre stage, nine actors assembled to recreate the Rhinegold madness. Iris Beaumier, Mariah Lyttle, Madge Dietrich, Jon Lonoff, Larry Purifory, Andrew Polec, Greg Sullivan and Bradley Dean were headed by, yes, the one-and-only André De Shields, reprising one of his roles in the original.
The plot? Even with the text, it’s mind-spinning. So is the Wagnerian opera Rhinegold is based on. No matter: the music is Steinman-swingy and the performances were energetic and compelling. And then there’s De Shields, an actor-singer incapable of not giving several hundred percent of himself in any given appearance he’s engaged in. As Loki, Demi-God of Fire, he was, of course, magnificent in attire (an outré costume designed by Christina Cocchiara/Brendan McCann) and in vocal delivery. Later in the show, in flowing caftan, De Shields reappeared as Alberich (his role in the original production), the Nibelung who becomes Lord of the Ring. It would be interesting to be able to view De Shields’ performance of the 1970s, especially since now he’s had practice being a god and lord in his Tony-winning role of Hermes in Hadestown—but it’s safe to assume that his recently acquired sobriquet of “Broadway Deity” says all we need to know about his out of this world performance at the Beechman. The entire production, with so many bodies packed on that small stage, was not only a lovely tip of the hat to the past and a showcase for prime talent, but a heck of a lot of good fun. Any doubts? Watch the video below.
Leading a top-notch band for Rhinegold was music director-conductor-arranger, Drew Wutke (piano, keys) with Hajime Yoshida (guitar), Dave D’Aranjo (bass guitar) and Nicole Patrick (drums).
All photos and video: Lia Chang