BWW Review: Theo Ubique's HEDWIG Ignites

BWW Review: Theo Ubique's HEDWIG Ignites
Photo by Austin D. Oie Photography

Even when performed in a Broadway theater and on tour in larger houses, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's gender-bending rock musical HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH has always managed to feel both intimate and in your face even when your proximity to the actors was a football field away.

You can't get much closer to the action in Theo Ubique's current production. Scenic designer Colt Frank surrounds the audience in Berlin Wall-inspired graffiti with the audience flanking the east and west sides of the theater space, giving the cast a thrust stage runway to use and director Toma Tavares Langston makes sure the cast utilizes the space to the fullest. The end result is perhaps the most intimate "Hedwig" experience you will ever have. Sit at one of the tables on the floor and during the song "Sugar Daddy" you just might be treated to some gummy bears from Hedwig herself. And for fans of the show (and they are legion), that's probably enough to rush out and buy a ticket.

At times seemingly raw and yet polished, intimate and yet still big, this production features some powerhouse talent in its two leads: Hedwig (Will Lidke) and Hedwig's husband Yitzhak (Brittney Brown). And for that, the show still deserves to be at the top of your must-see list.

Lidke imbibes the title character with just the right amount of anger that one would expect from someone who had a botched sex change in order to flee East Germany only to see the wall fall down some 12 months later. Hedwig's trailer park lament, "Wig in the Box," is probably the saddest yet bouncy sing-along ditty you'll ever here.

Even at her cruelest (and the jokes about immigration have probably stopped being funny in our current political climate), Lidke's Hedwig still manages to somehow charm us and that is by no means a small feat. And if that were still not enough to get you to buy a ticket, his powerful voice and the way his Hedwig commands your attention throughout every moment in the show show should convince you to see this.

Brown perfectly captures the confusion Yitzhak feels about his relationship with Hedwig. There is more cruelty than love there and things slowly build until Yitzhak can no longer contain his resentment. Brown's performance of "The Long Grift" is electrifying and intense.

Director Langston has made some interesting choices here with the addition of two back singers East (Adriana Tronco) and West (Jacob Gilchrist). Both play the additional roles usually voiced by Hedwig and it ends up fleshing out the action more and making things feel a bit less of a one-person show.

The other change concerns the wig that Hedwig wears as a sort of crown. Typically, this is a blonde wig, but wig designer Keith Ryan have made the bold choice of forgoing the character's traditional blonde locks and made Theo Ubique's Hedwig a fiery redhead. Lidke looks like a younger version of playwright, actor and female impersonator Charles Busch as a result. Purest may take issue with the change, however.

The vocal and music arrangements by Jeremy Ramey are again top-notch. In particular, "The Origin of Love" is still a strange, loud and hauntingly beautiful piece the premise of which is borrowed from Plato's Symposium. In the beginning, all humans were androgynous until the gods separated the two halves, leading us to forever crave and search for our "better half" who will love and accept us.

The rub, of course, is learning to love yourself first. For HEDWIG, it's a 90 minute road to self-acceptance. You just might find Lidke's performance is cathardic.

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH runs through July 28th at Theo Ubique's Howard Street Theatre, 721 Howard in Evanston. Tickets $39-$54. or 773.347.1109.

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From This Author Misha Davenport

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