Lyric Opera and the Second City first teamed up in 2013 for The Second City Guide to the Opera, a smart use of Second City’s sketch-comedy stylings as a gentle send-up of and introduction to Lyric’s specialty. Unlike that confident piece (or Second City’s more recent, wildly successful collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance, The Art of Falling), Longer! Louder! Wagner! suffers from a peculiar malady: In homing in on a specific subject (Ring Cycle composer Richard Wagner), it loses its comic specificity.
Writer Tim Sniffen follows a loose narrative about an obscure great-grandson of the composer, Fred Wagner (Tim Ryder), who is sort of in the family business, though he eschews his ancestor’s sturm und drang; Fred runs the “Light-er Opera Works of Schaumburg.” But stricken by the spirit of his great-grandfather (played by frequent Second City music director Jesse Case, making his acting debut), Fred improbably winds up directing the Ring Cycle at Germany’s Bayreuth Festival.
There are plenty of references to Wagner’s flair for drama, as well as the dramaturgical leaps that opera often gets away with. But that’s all much of this show feels like: references and leaps, barely skimming the surface of Wagner the man or his art. The characters are for the most part thinly drawn with hazy motivations. And at Wednesday afternoon’s press preview, at least, sound issues caused many a line to land awkwardly if at all in the cavernous Lyric rehearsal hall where the show is being performed. One factoid I did pick up from the show: It took Wagner 26 years of work to complete the Ring Cycle. Longer! Louder! Wagner! could probably have used a few more drafts itself.
Lyric Opera and Second City. By Tim Sniffen. Music by Jesse Case. Directed by Anneliese Toft. With Case, Tim Ryder, Tracy Cantin, Randall Harr, Sayjal Joshi, Alice Stanley Jr., Travis Turner, Jonah D. Winston. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.