by Lynn on September 26, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by John Cameron Mitchell
Music and lyrics by Stephen Trask
Directed by Rebecca Ballarin
Music director, Giustin MacLean
Set and lighting by Shannon Lea Doyle
Costumes by Kathleen Black
Projections by Melissa Joakim
Sound by Jeremy Hutton
Cast: James King
Erik Larson
Iain Leslie
Giustin Maclean
Robert Purcell

The 2017-18 Hart House Theatre season got off to a rip-roaring start with a rousing production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch written by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask.

By his own admission Hedwig started off life as a ‘girly-boy’ named Hansel in East Germany. He had an bland life until he fell in love with Luther, an America soldier who wanted to take him back to America. But first Luther suggested that Hansel had to leave a little bit of himself behind. Hansel did leave that ‘little bit’ and also his name. Hansel became Hedwig. The relationship with Luther soured and Hedwig took up with a young, lost man named Tommy. They fell in love. They made rock music together. Tommy became a rock star. Again, Hedwig was left behind.

Hedwig formed ‘her’ own band: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which seems fitting. She now wears funky blond wigs, sequins on ‘her’ costumes and her eye-makeup, a skimpy skirt, a sequined vest, a boa, and very high heeled boots that mean business. “She” also has a companion/band mate named Yitzhak who often helps and supports Hedwig on stage, but just as often is insulting when Hedwig is rude.

As Hedwig, James King is seductive, dangerous, irreverent with the audience and flippant. Hedwig speaks in the softest German accent and expresses ‘herself’ in the most delicious self-deprecating way. Director Rebecca Ballarin has Hedwig prowl and strut around the stage, interact of course with the audience, and even goes deep into the audience, chatting, flirting and playing with them. That soft voice becomes formidable when Hedwig sings rocking, angry anthems of rage, disappointment and failed love.

All the while Yitzhak does ‘his’ own prowling on stage, usually with a sneer. “He’s attentive to Hedwig but resents it. And just as James King is mesmerizing as Hedwig, so Lauren Mayer is a quiet powerhouse as Yitzhak. Diminutive, swaggers, angry, but a voice like a steel rod. Glorious.

The band, “The Angry Inch” are an assortment of bewigged gentlemen with wonderfully garish costumes, and every one of them plays loud and rocking. Terrific band.

John Cameron Mitchell has written a rock musical that is an anthem for the misfit, the freak, ‘the other’. Just as Hedwig came from a divided city (East and West Berlin) so Hedwig is conflicted as to who ‘she’ really is. She lives boldly, with attitude and with passion.

Rebecca Ballarin has done a terrific job realizing the wildness, the anger and the irreverence of the piece.

Hart House Theatre Presents:

Opened: Sept. 15, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 7, 2017.
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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