Having most recently brought to local stages the successes of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”, “The Who’s Tommy: In Concert”, and “Highlights from Chess: In Concert”, In the Wings Promotions returns this fall season to ascertain its positioning as a prime presenter of the rock musical genre in Montreal with what is decidedly its most relishable theatrical production to date.
Featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Trask – whose presence graced opening night at Cabaret Mado on November 14th – and a book by John Cameron Mitchell that has been tweaked for Montreal audiences, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is the hit 1998 Off-Broadway two-hander that went on to find a cult following, spur a 2001 film adaptation, re-open on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre in 2014, and amass 4 Tony Awards that same year for its revived stage production – including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Lead Actor in a Musical for Neil Patrick Harris and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Lena Hall. Here, the concert-style show is finely stripped to its bare essentials: compelling storytelling through song.
Inspired by David Bowie glam, Hedwig follows the genderqueer would-be rock star Hedwig Robinson (Andrew Morrisey), a “slip of a girly boy” from East Germany who finds escape to the United States as an army bride (he/she pronouns are henceforth here used alternately to respect fluidity in identity). In an unconventional autobiographical narrative, she details an unhappy childhood as Hansel Schmidt, her seduction by American soldier Luther Robinson, and an artistic career far eclipsed by that of rocker Tommy Gnosis, her former protégé and ex-lover.
“The Angry Inch” is the name of the lead vocalist Hedwig’s gritty and grinding band – which includes her husband, Yitzhak (Noelle Hannibal), as backup singer – as well as her sobriquet for the results of a horrifically botched sex reassignment operation.
“Divorced and penniless”, life is anything but the American Dream as she follows Gnosis on tour, performing in the shadows in an adjacent – and vastly smaller – venue.
Through rock anthems, raunchy jokes, and tearful ballads, Hedwig expresses longing to find his other half (the song “The Origin of Love”, for one, is inspired by Aristophanes’ speech on sexual divide in Plato’s Symposium. StickdudeSeven’s projected animation for the musical number is a winsome touch.). Abandoned by and/or torn from his family, partners, homeland, and manhood, he searches for a fully realized sense of self and completion, only to find it by looking within in a stirring, heartrending climax.
Andrew Morrisey plays the androgynous centrepiece role in a blonde helmet of hair, fishnet stockings, ankle booties, and angry deposits of glitter eyeshadow (the costume design is by Sig Moser and Jess Beyer fashions the striking hair/makeup). Shamelessly fabulous, fun, and flirtatious, he commands the space and exudes the necessary charisma for the sassy songstress. The success of any production of “Hedwig” frankly rests on the performance chops, stage presence, and emotional vulnerability of its eponymous character, and Morrisey rises to the occasion.
In the Wings Promotions’ Noelle Hannibal makes an intriguing transformation of her own as the Jewish drag queen from Zagreb and oft-humiliated partner of Hedwig. Hannibal finds ground in a subdued portrayal of the forlorn yet faithful Yitzhak, contributing with dulcet harmonies and occasional bursts of powerful vocals. The live-performing “Angry Inch” measures up in being superbly completed by Musical Director Ian Baird (on keyboard), Kevin Bourne (guitar), Stephen Menold (bass), and Sebastian Balk-Forcione (drums).
Cabaret Mado proves a fitting venue in lending an essential intimacy to the piece, and the technical design elements (namely, lighting by H. Alexander Smith and Nadia Verrucci and sound by Pascale McCovy) effectively come together to preserve the electric rock energy of the 90-minute, intermission-less musical affair.
(Note: while the production is relatively shy in spectator interactivity, the front edge of the stage is a definitive splash zone.)
Rising above campy satire, Director-choreographer Nadia Verrucci has here brought a most moving rendition of a cult classic that explores the sensitivities of queer identity and gender dysphoria with tasteful sensibility. The scrappy production is frugal in spectacle, but not in spirit. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” poignantly questions what it means to be divided in an individualist society with its timeless themes of love, loss, freedom, and acceptance – and the current political climate only further upholds its relevancy.
The garments – and guard – are ultimately dropped, but the story stays.
In the Wings Promotions presents
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
Book by John Cameron Mitchell
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask
Directed by Nadia Verrucci
Musical Direction by Ian Baird
Andrew Morrisey as Hedwig
Noelle Hannibal as Yitzhak
Live Band: Ian Baird, Kevin Bourne, Stephen Menold, and Sebastian Balk-Forcione
November 14th, 15th, 21st, and 22nd, 2018 at 8PM
Duration: 90 minutes without intermission
1115 St Catherine St E, Montreal, QC H2L 2G2
$20 – $35