A Hoarse Raven Theatre Production
Venue: The Lotus Sound Lounge, Vancouver Dates: 4 April - 10 May 2003
Micheal Fera Musical Director: Steve Bulat
Reviewer: John Jane
Writer and title role originator John Cameron Mitchell teamed up with lyricist Stephen Trask to create this off-the-wall, gender bending camp theatre that gained an immediate cult following when it opened at New York's off-Broadway Jane Street Theatre on St. Valentine's Day in 1998. It has since become an equally popular cult film, with Mitchell once again in a tour-de-force performance as Hedwig (an obtuse wordplay on head and wig) coupled with a hefty glam rock soundtrack.
The story begins with an anomalous youth, then known as Hansel growing up on the wrong side of the Berlin wall. In order to marry a GI and thus gain entry to the United States he undergoes a gender transformation and henceforth Hansel Schmidt becomes Hedwig. The obligatory surgery is alas, only partially successful, leaving Hedwig with the eponymous ‘angry inch’, a motif for her poignant journey through gender confusion and misplaced romantic idealism.
This local production, slightly re-scripted to suit time and place, has Greg Armstrong-Morris taking over the role of the androgynous Hedwig, and Meghan Gardiner playing her comically epicene sidekick Yitzhak. Despite the similarity in their names, Armstrong-Morris can hardly be compared to the droll, multi faceted Mitchell. He doesn’t attempt to emulate the east German accent that was such a vital component of the creators performance, and prefers instead to employ a kind of english theatre accent which often tended to give his narrative a burlesque tone. However, credit should be given to Armstrong-Morris for carrying the entire burden of the show’s success on his shoulders. He remains pretty much at centre stage throughout the ninety minute non-stop show, and offers his audience an energetic and tireless performance.
Backed up by a group of solid musicians, there was certainly nothing wrong with the execution of the songs. From the edgy rock anthem “Tear Me Down” and the honky-tonk “Sugar Daddy” early in the show, right up the last song, “Midnight Radio” a poignant rock ballad, Armstrong-Morris delivers all eight original numbers with a gutsy ‘Meat Loaf’ style.
Newcomer Meghan Gardiner didn’t really have much to do, and occasionally seemed a little underwhelming playing off Armstrong-Morris’s over-the-top performance. She will probably gain more confidence before the end of the show’s run.
As with some other ‘Hoarse Raven’ productions, audience involvement is not only encouraged, its required. That was just fine with many of the Sound Lounge patrons dressed in character and singing along with “Wig in a Box” on opening night.
© 2003, John Jane