Despite glam rock being the most theatrical of all musical genres, rock 'n' roll of any kind has rarely translated to the stage. Any qualms about the production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
currently at the Drake Underground, dissipated upon reading in the program that the "wig design" is by Mikah Styles. Mikah is the best in the biz when it comes to elaborate, outrageous or even day-to-day hair extensions and stylings. And his pride in his creations has many times had him insist that his name be removed from anything that he feels is not up to his exacting standards. This production is up to anyone's standards (and the wigs are stunning and look amazingly tactile).
Seth Drabinsky not only brings the damaged diva to full uproarious life, but adds a sly smile to the tragic elements that make the heartbreak beneath the backbeats and wisecracks even stronger. He must also be as quick on a quip as the tightly scripted Hedwig -- a drunken heckler, besotted and well-meaning but still disruptive -- tested the limits of Drabinsky's improv skills, but he proved to be so immersed in Hedwig as a persona that it enhanced the show.
The songs in Hedwig
are instantly catchy; pilfered from glam rock's ear worm-infested back catalogue, they have an accessibility and raunchy patina that Drabinsky gleefully bites into. His pipes are impressive -- lungs and arms -- and it is only in hindsight that one wishes Hedwig's character required full vocal flight so that could be heard. LA Lopes, as Yitzhak, is under no such dramatic constraints and takes full advantage of every opportunity to show off her prowess. The band is tight and manages to sound rockish while allowing room for the lyrics to be clear and enunciated. Much of the storyline happens within the songs, and the singers and musicians conspire carefully to make it all flow.
Drabinsky handles the almost-monologues that deliver the plot ingeniously; he flits from drag queen to gay man to tranny to broken-hearted woman effortlessly and somehow combines all those elements into a coherent personality that's impossible not to ache for. The script's ambitious thematic elements -- the end of the Cold War, the limitations of gender definition, rock 'n' roll as a tool of sexual liberation, et cetera -- coalesce into a satisfying whole. There is still one ending too many, but this cast is game and runs with it in the same way a favourite band milks yet another encore and makes the audience love it. Hedwig
can be enjoyed just for the music and the hilarious lines that the superstar-who-never-was spouts, but it also touches the heart with a twisted, broken love story. Politically, it is frustrating that there has yet to be a trans/drag queen theatrical piece that ends in triumph instead of tragedy, but Hedwig
does entertain and the character certainly makes a brave attempt to kick those gender walls to pieces.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues till Sun, Jan 27 at the Drake Underground, 1150 Queen St W. beathefeellove.com
Seth Drabinsky on being Hedwig