Hedwig Rocked

Here is my review of the production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch put on by Actors Express. In short, it was awesome!

Longer version: Even though we knew it began life as the stage play, we had seen the movie first and were curious how the narrative of the film (and there is a lot of it) would be condensed to a single setting with fewer characters. Really, it was structured like a one-man show with other characters also there. The man playing Hedwig related the history of the character, doing voices for the absent characters in monologue. That’s the only real weakness of the show to me, is the lack of interaction between Hedwig and the other characters in the play. However, what we are left with is a tour de force as this rock diva relates her sad story, belts out songs – ranging from rocking punk anthems to truly touching ballads – and engages us on her journey of transformation. The play is all about transformation, transformation physically, emotionally, via music, with love, reinventing oneself. For obvious reasons, this resonates with us even more now than it would normally. When Hedwig undergoes the final transformation at the end of the show, the hair on my arms stood up. I was captivated, on the verge of tears, and completely with her/him.

This production had some wonderfully inventive touches. I don’t know if they were there in the original production or unique to this staging. During the song “Origin of Love” what was represented by animation in the film was done via a shadowpuppet show projected on a wall. During the crucial and moving ballad “Wicked Little Town”, Hedwig is draped with a sheer white shawl. In the middle of the song, she stretches out her arms and spreads the shawl while footage shot out of a car window is projected on and around her. As the song tells of leaving this place and making herself over, we watch a literal journey happen, conveying viscerally the sense of movement and change. That was spine tingling.

I really enjoyed all the performers. Angela Motter was very good as Yitzhak. That’s not an easy role since there is very little dialogue for the character, yet she had to represent a crucial part of Hedwig’s dissolution and reformation as a person. This was done mostly via facial expressions and small gestures on stage, and was very effective. The key to the whole thing was the lead performer, Mark Salyer. This has to be a difficult role to cast, as you need a man who can sell the drag part, sing well while being convincing both as a man and a woman, who has a nice enough body to look sexy in the dresses and is buff enough to sell the final scene as a man clad only in short-shorts without being so buff as to not be feminine. On top of all that, the actor must make all of us care about this drunken slut that is really an unpleasant, damaged soul. That’s the magic of this show, in making all of us care and become complicit in Hedwig’s story. Salyer sold every bit of that. I felt the pain, I felt the joy, and when the time was right I rocked my ass off right along with him. His was a bravura performance, in what must be an emotionally wringing and physically demanding thing to do 3 times a week for 3 months.

At this writing, there are two more performances left in the run. I urge anyone reading this to go to the show if you can. It is a special evening, a magical night of transformation, of destruction, of healing with love and music, of becoming what you want to be. What more can any of us want?

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.