Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Reviving the Blast
by Christian Baines
It’s hard to imagine the ice water blast of originality that Hedwig and the Angry Inch must have seemed when it debuted in New York in 1998. With a film version released not three years after, the underground trans punk became a household name – at least within certain subcultures (the kind the show appealed to in the first place). For all Hedwig’s success, it has never quite broken through to the mainstream. Then again, perhaps that’s the very reason for the show’s endurance. Far from the campiness of Rocky Horror, or the squeaky-clean, sitcom images of Queer acceptance emerging at the time, it was content to be part of the cool and freaky kids’ culture in 1998. It’s still that now.
This longevity is no doubt helped by energetic productions like this one, from Breathe.Feel.Love, which fires up The Drake Underground with a mix of revolution and disillusion perfectly suited to John Cameron Mitchell’s oddball story. 
Seth Drabinsky is nothing short of electric in what is almost a one man show.

For the uninitiated, it tells of Hansel, a young East German boy raised on the lure of western rock and roll, who is whisked away by an American soldier to the land of his idols. The price? A sex change operation. The unfortunate return? A hasty divorce and – far from female functionality – the ugly stump of the title, where Hansel’s manhood was once attached. Now Hedwig in body and soul, our heroine finds love – of a sort – in the arms of the young rocker wannabe she shapes into Tommy Gnosis, who has gone on to become a rock god less than thankful for his former love’s role in his career. And unlike many things in her life, Hedwig won’t take that lying down.
Seth Drabinsky is nothing short of electric in what is almost a one man show. He bounces around the stage, a joyous Molotov cocktail of rock star, cabaret emcee and wounded lover. This is a carefully constructed and beautifully paced musical, in the guise of a manic underground rock show, and Drabinsky knows how to manage both with aplomb. Indeed, the reviewed performance saw him handle the unscripted affections of a drunken fan with as much bitchiness, compassion, flippancy and love (yes, all four) as one could imagine from this character. In this space, Drabinsky simply is Hedwig, both in his trusting and abused sensitivity, and in his bitterness. ‘There is no fourth wall here,’ he warns, with playful flirtation, right after snarling ‘I asked you a fucking question!’ in a manner that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tarantino film. Yes, introverts, you have been warned. This ‘internationally ignored song stylist’ will reach out and touch you, in every sense of the word.
While Hedwig would insist it’s all about her, many of the show’s best moments belong to L. A. Lopes as Yitzhak, a retired Serbian drag queen and one-time lover of Hedwig, relegated to washed up backing singer slash roadie. On top of a disarmingly fine voice, Lopes embodies a different kind of melancholy, slowly falling apart before Hedwig’s blind eyes, longing for a chance to shine. Behind them, a band who are not just in great form themselves, but whose nonchalance seems to only heighten the mania of Drabinsky’s frustrated Hedwig.
Whether you’re a longtime fan or a curious initiate, this production is the perfect opportunity to get (re)acquainted with a fusion musical brimming with pathos and philosophy. Thrust into the sanitized, white-bread ‘progressiveness’ of the Glee era, Hedwig is the perfect musical poison.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.