Review: ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’
‘Hedwig’ rocks at 1515 Broadway
A funny thing happened in the late 1960s and early ’70s. The rock-opera “Tommy” burst onto the scene and legions of young people took notice. Like its musical theater ancestors, ‘Tommy” had a message, but it was one that gripped the hearts, minds and souls of a generation like never before. And once “Godspell” and “The Rocky Horror Show” hit the stage, the genre was permanently transformed into a visceral experience shared by young people everywhere.
Although many believe the genre reached its zenith with “Rent,” others claim it’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” that deserves the crown. Now, Metro Detroiters can join the debate thanks to the Breathe Art Theatre Project’s totally engaging – but not perfect – production at 1515 Broadway in downtown Detroit.
Whereas “Rocky Horror” is known for its camp and “Rent” for its whininess – sorry, I’m not a fan of the show – “Hedwig” taps into a more personal, more emotional vein. After all, who among us hasn’t felt left out of the mainstream at some point in their lives? And, honestly now, who hasn’t questioned their sexuality at least once? It’s that universal appeal that draws people into the show, but it’s Hedwig’s infectious spirit that keeps them coming back. (Okay, it’s the music, too, especially if you like The Who, David Bowie, country western and hard-rockin’ punk!)
By every measure, Hedwig has every right to be pissed. Born an effeminate boy in East Berlin, Hedwig – then Hansel – was raised by a miserable excuse for a mother. Mistaken for a girl by an American soldier, the teenage Hansel agrees to undergo a sex change so that the two can marry and move to the States. The operation fails, however, leaving the newly-renamed Hedwig with “an angry inch” – and later, alone, divorced and a woman living in a trailer park in Kansas. While babysitting she meets a young boy, Tommy, and grooms him to be a major rock star. But he, too, dumps Hedwig. So what does she do? Why, she becomes an “internationally ignored song-stylist,” of course. And it’s at that point that the audience meets Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch.
By setting their “glam rock opera” in a nightclub, creators John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask create a personal relationship between Hedwig and her audience; we’re part of the give-and-take that occurs in every bar that features live music. So when Hedwig tells us her story, we react to it. And when she sings her songs, we listen. And listen closely we must, as the lyrics are an integral part of the storytelling.
“Hedwig’s” success, however, depends primarily on the performer in the title role. If it’s too close to a drag act, the show risks becoming parody; and if the actor is uncomfortable in Hedwig’s skin, it’s doomed. It’s a risk actor Kevin Young successfully tackles, as he infuses Hedwig with generally believable feminine qualities. It’s a fluid performance that oftentimes leaves you amazed at just how perfect his gestures are, making it easy to forget there’s a man buried beneath the blonde wig and thick eye makeup.
And his singing voice? Sometimes he’s superb, such as in the introspective “Wig in a Box.” Towards the end of opening night, however, his voice sounded strained.
Then there were times we couldn’t tell. Working in a small space with great acoustics, the excellent musicians – under the direction of Phred Brown – often drowned out Young and Katie Galazka (who plays Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband/road manager) on opening night. This was especially true in the rock numbers, most notably the opening song, “Tear Me Down,” and later, “Angry Inch.” As such, much of the story’s rich tapestry was lost, leaving those not familiar with the play somewhat in the dark.
Galazka – in a role that’s vastly underdeveloped by the playwrights – suffered most, as her sweet, but soft voice all but disappeared beneath the music.
Although audience members might leave the theater scratching their heads trying to make sense of the play’s conclusion, it certainly offers a multi-layered, thought-provoking look at gender identity that asks the question: What matters most? What we look like or how we live our lives?
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” runs Fri.-Sun., through March 26 at 1515 Broadway, Detroit. Tickets: $20. For information: 313-965-1515 or http://www.breathearttheatre.com.
The Bottom Line: Lift up your hands, Detroit: Hedwig’s finally here!
Preview: ‘Sordid Lives’
Don’t look now: It’s a gay season after all
Theatergoers looking for shows with a gay sensibility must be in second heaven, since there’s not one, not two, but an astounding six shows of interest to the LGBT community on stages this month.
Not only are genders being bent in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at 1515 Broadway, they’re also getting a good thrashing in “Love, Sex and the IRS,” courtesy of Avon Players in Rochester Hills.
Then there’s the lesbian-themed “Boston Marriage” at Whole Art Theater in Kalamazoo.
Fans of Mae West will find Kalamazoo Civic Theatre’s “Dirty Blonde” to their liking, while that other sex symbol – Vicki Lawrence’s Mama – will have audiences in stitches at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center.
But the show generating the most heat this month is “Sordid Lives,” a comedy that makes reality TV seem, well, unreal.
“The play lovingly pokes fun at Texas trailer-trash culture,” explained Jeff Davison who’s directing the play for St. Dunstan’s Guild of Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills. “The characters and situations are hysterically funny, but the play also has a lot to say about the power of family, acceptance and love.”
In “Sordid Lives,” skeletons come tumbling out of the closet when a dysfunctional family is reunited upon the death of its matriarch. It’s your typical American family: with dueling big-haired sisters, a soul-searching gay grandson and a son who’s spent the past two decades dressed as Tammy Wynette.
The comedy is scheduled to run Fri.-Sat., March 24-April 8, plus Sun., April 2 at St. Dunstan’s Theatre Guild of Cranbrook, 400 Lone Pine Road, Bloomfield Hills. Tickets are $16.
For tickets or information, call 248-737-3587 or log on to http://www.stdunstanstheatre.com.