Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Dates 24 April - 12 May 2007, 7.30pm Venue Media Club Reviewer John Jane
The story of a transsexual who suffers a botched sex change operation to get her ticket out of East Berlin, only to find that a year later the Berlin wall comes down anyway does seem an unlikely premise for a rock odyssey. But when writer and title role originator John Cameron Mitchell teamed up with lyricist Stephen Trask in 1998 and created this off-the-wall, gender bending camp theatre, it immediately gained a phenomenal cult following.
It later became an equally popular cult film, with Mitchell once again in a tour-de-force performance as Hedwig (it also featured a supporting role by Vancouver’s own Sook Yin Lee) coupled with a driving rock soundtrack. Mitchell has since moved on to other things and passed the baton to new performers.
This local production is closer to the original one-man, off-Broadway show than the film version and is only slightly re-scripted to suit time and place. The show’s construct has the audience attending the opening night of a Vancouver gig of Hedwig, an "internationally ignored" transvestite rock star. In between the songs that span a range of moods and styles, she tells of her past struggles and her search for identity. The Media Club in its own way plays an intrinsic part of the subterfuge as a third level venue that Hedwig is reduced to playing.
Seth Drabinsky is outrageously androgynous as the luckless, transsexual punk rocker from “Eest Berrrleen.” As a singer, Drabinsky’s vocal prowess is never in doubt. He even attempts to emulate the East German accent that was such a vital component of Mitchell’s original performance. From the edgy rock anthem, "Tear Me Down," he shifts effortlessly into the subdued, "The Origin of Love". He also manages to capture the poignant optimism in the show’s best-known song, "Wig in a Box". Drabinsky is a natural as the tongue-wagging, vamping Hedwig. All the more remarkable when one considers his day job – a student at the University of British Columbia in the operatic programme.
Cathy Salmond plays Hedwig's comically epicene sidekick Yitzhak. The dynamics of their relationship is not always clear; that hardly seems to matter as she delivers her share of the vocals without being completely eclipsed by her more flamboyant co-star.
Cinderpop’s Kevan Ellis leads a group of solid musicians who not only provide a pounding rock score but act out the appropriately disinterested shtick of Hedwig’s side band, The Angry Inch.
If you find standard theatre too stuffy and rock shows too pretentious, Hedwig’s gig might just be right for you.
© 2007 John Jane