BWW Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at Musical Theater Southwest
HEDWIG and the ANGRY INCH
Musical Theater Southwest - Albuquerque, NM
October 18-November 10
In a time when our ridiculous, sad, sorry excuse for a government is promising to erect walls, there never has been a more appropriate time for a pretentious, punk rock, flamboyant victim of a botched sex change operation to come on the scene and promise to tear those walls down. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, now playing at Musical Theater Southwest, gives us hope that this era too, shall pass and that we may all be a little more accepting of those around us, regardless of gender, preference, color or creed.
Hedwig and their band, the Angry Inch is playing a small, dumpy cabaret, ironically positioned directly across from a large Coliseum (MSW's space is Tingley adjacent), where a much more successful Tommy Gnosis is playing to a sold out crowd. Through the action we learn that Hedwig was a mentor, and lover, of Tommy's before his great success.
Hedwig, while less successful, has many stories to tell, starting with their childhood behind the Berlin Wall in East Germany. Hedwig was born Hansel, a young boy living with a cold undemonstrative mother and an absent father, who loved music and all things American. As luck would have it, Hansel finds love and escape through a handsome, persuasive and charming American GI who promises to take him to America, for a 'small' price. Hansel goes through a violent and ultimately unsuccessful sex change operation where all that is left is the titled angry inch of flesh.
Not woman or man, Hansel becomes Hedwig and travels to the Midwest with their GI, where they are ultimately abandoned by the Sugar Daddy and left to lament life in the trailer park. Hedwig starts a band with a few military wives, and babysits the children of an officer, one of whom is young Tommy, later Tommy Gnosis, the rock star who haunts Hedwig. Will Hedwig be able to get past the fame of Tommy Gnosis and find happiness with their lover Yitzhak? Will they be able to escape the trailer park and find true fame or are they cursed to live a tabloid life of infamy instead? All may not be answered, but the journey of discovery that the audience is taken on is well worth the trip.
This whole story is told through song and monologues, delivered by the incredibly energetic and skilled Jonathan Gallegos. Gallegos has an equally strong partner in Kir Kipness, who plays Yitzhak, who has the unenviable role of being alternately mocked and loved by Hedwig. The rest of the action comes from Hedwig's band, a tight combo of Laurie Lopez on keyboard, Bryan Gonzales on bass, Hovey Jude Corbin on drums and Chris Deminsky on guitar. The amount of text and song that Gallegos emotes is impressive, almost a one-man show with accompaniment. The role of Hedwig is perhaps one of the most physically and emotionally exhausting ones in modern musicals, and Gallegos is up to the challenge. Kipness holds their own with Gallegos, although their audio could have used some more volume on the night we saw the show. Kipness's voice is strong and Yitzhak's devotion to Hedwig, while frustrating, is ultimately revealed as a true connection and love for one another.
Overall, the performances by both actors and the band were superior. My only critiques are with the uneven sound quality, which was annoying - the band was extremely loud and drowned out both singers at times, which was frustrating for many in the audience. If I hadn't been familiar with the story, I would have missed a large percentage of the plot.
The staging was also a little clunky in this production - since Hedwig is meant to be in a club, it would have made sense to have some tables scattered about and populated with audience members, which would have resulted in easier interaction with people (these seats could have been priced higher as well - but that may just be the fundraiser in me talking). The only time Gallegos showed any timidity was when attempting to connect with audience members. Giving them a few more bodies onstage to interact with might have made this connection more possible. One of the benefits of having a black box theater is being able to reconfigure the audience, which was underutilized by this production.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays October 18-November 10 at Musical Theater Southwest. Tickets can be purchased at www.mtsabq.org. Get there early and snag seats in the middle, where the sound is most balanced. The entire theater is general admission seating, so don't be late!