Wigheads, rejoice! The theatre season is in full swing and Sage Theatre has a tasty little treat to offer. For the second time in recent history, Calgary will be honoured by an appearance of everyone’s favourite transsexual glam rock icon, Hedwig Schmidt. I’m referring, of course, to the infamous stage show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. For those of you who are unaware of this glamtastic good time, let me be the first to welcome you back after what must have been a long and arduous coma. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is possibly the best stage show turned cult classic movie of our generation, in the same vein of such rock musicals as Rocky Horror Picture Show or Phantom of the Paradise.
Lucky Calgary audience members will get the chance to observe and adore Hedwig, a transsexual refugee from communist East Berlin and her ragtag band of Eastern Bloc rockers, The Angry Inch. Between songs, we’re delighted and enthralled by cabaret-style interludes where Hedwig tells her stories of love, war, betrayal, and the search for her other half. Director Kelly Reay tells us, “The audience is there to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch and everything takes place in one night and Hedwig just tells the audience her story of where she came from, how she grew up, how she escaped the Berlin Wall and then when she was over in North America meeting Tommy Gnosis, helping him become a rock star and the betrayal by Tommy Gnosis.”
In previous mountings in North America, the outrageous heroine of the story has been portrayed by many big names, including Tony award winner Michael Cerveris and Brat Pack alumnus Ally Sheedy. Hedwig is a larger-than-life character and requires bold acting chops and a great ability to improvise. That’s why Sage Theatre is truly blessed to have Geoffrey Ewert reprise his role for the second time as the over-the-top rocker.
“The beauty about a role like Hedwig is that the way the play and the story is written, there’s a great deal of… riffing with the audience, cracking jokes,” says Reay. “It’s the kind of show where there’s no fourth wall. The separation between the audience and the actors is non-existent. Hedwig acknowledges and brings the audience into the play and so, in the stage version, that’s where each individual performer who plays Hedwig brings in their own flavour… and Geoffrey certainly brings in a very witty and comedic banter. As a person and a performer, he’s so likeable so he brings that likeability and natural charm to the role.”
First mounted in 1998 by John Cameron Mitchell, the character of Hedwig was inspired by an East German nanny, a military wife who worked by day as his babysitter and by night as a prostitute in her Kansas trailer park home. The show was carefully written over time at New York City’s drag-punk club Squeezebox where it was developed through gigs in the club, rather than in a theatre setting to preserve its rock energy. Early gigs were mainly covers of songs by artists such as Velvet Underground and David Bowie with the lyrics rewritten to tell the story of Hedwig, but quickly became a sensation after appearing on a bill with Blondie’s Debbie Harry and soon had an all-original score.
Audiences will be entertained as the music of Stephen Trask brings to life the era of crypto-homo rockers like David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. One of the central points of the story is how Hedwig was raised in a cramped apartment with her mother and had to play in the stove due to lack of storage space. It was in that stove that Hedwig would listen to the American Forces radio station and that the artists that she listened to would leave as big an impression on her as the oven rack had left on her face. In this way, the music becomes the backbone of the story as Hedwig grows up and imitates the styles of her icons.
Whether it’s the proto-punk inspired glam rock soundtrack, the compelling love story turned Greek tragedy of Hedwig and Tommy Gnosis, the glamorous and glitzy costumes, or the biting drag queen-esque witty banter of this wigged songstress, there’s bound to be a little something for everyone. Like the title character herself, it has travelled a mighty long way to join us, so be sure to join the throngs of devoted fans and curious newcomers to share an evening with a truly rocking chick.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch will run November 7-17 at Sage Theatre’s new space at the base of the Calgary Tower.
By Max Maxwell
Photos: James May