BWW Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at Café Cléopatra
Hedwig and the Angry Inch has been mounted at Café Cléopatra. Directed by Nadia Verrucci with musical direction by Ian Baird, it is brought to audiences by In The Wings Promotions in association with Fierté Montreal and Café Cléopatra. It ran August 8th through August 10th. In Hedwig, we are the audience of Hedwig Robinson (Andrew Morrisey) a singer, androgyne, and hot mess, whose ex boyfriend Tommy Gnosis has run off (with the songs they wrote together) towards the fame and fortune she believes she deserves. This has left her trailing behind him on his current tour, playing much smaller shows, where she explains her extremely interesting life to us all backed up by her band the Angry Inch and her husband and back-up singer Yitzak (Noelle Hannibal).
Hedwig Robinson was born Hansel Schmidt in East Germany. His father quickly ran off, leaving him to grow up with his cold and uncaring mother. In one singular and uncharacteristic fit of tenderness, solidly sandwiched on either side by half a lifetime of neglect, she told her son an ancient Grecian parable about the origin of love. Hansel grows up and meets a man who offers to spirit him out of east Germany if he gets a sex change and they marry, but the operation goes poorly and leaves Hansel (now Hedwig) with non-functional genitals that don't resemble those of either binary sex (the "angry inch"). In America, she starts living her life as a woman, and one misadventure after another leads to the strange and fabulous coming-of-age that brings her here, to this audience.
Hedwig is a story about a person who has been through just about every terrible thing that a person can go through, and survived, fueled as much by their own resilience and drive as by their (charming) narcissism. It's a story about a person who has every excuse to treat other people badly, and uses them with wild abandon, something we cannot ignore when faced with Noelle Hannibal's clenched-fist, stiff-backed performance of Yitzhak, who is physical evidence of what Hedwig's kind of drive can do to the people you love. Hedwig is a story about a person who eventually comes through self-hatred to a hard-won self-love which simultaneously delights us all and causes incredible anguish to those who refuse to abandon her. It's also a story about how she comes around to a genuine kindness and compassiona??or at least a moment of it.
The red lights and low ceilings of Café Cléo are a fitting choice for a show that developed between drag sets in New York City. This is a story that should be told to people who come, single-file, up stairs that are postered on either side by ads for burlesque revues, BDSM specialty nights, and lesbian socials. It's a story for the first night of Montreal's pride weeka??for queers and freaks and ne'er-do-wells, gathered in a strip club in one of the coldest cities on earth, in a room where what was once deemed sexual perversity is such a commonplace example of our diversified strengths that a potted plant has been casually placed on top of a go-go cage so it can be closer to daylight.
Ian Baird's music direction channels a clear understanding of what's happening here, leading the Angry Inch to hit every emotional point with accuracy and feeling while not losing the fun-time attitude without which the show would fall apart. Bassist Stephen Menold is the heart and soul of the group, setting a pace for fun that starts as he introduces the show and gives housekeeping notes in a goofy German accent, and continues throughout. This sense of fun is matched by lead Andrew Morrisey, who plays Hedwig with a full range of human emotion from a Courtney Love-like girlishness to a Stooge ferocity. While Morrisey's skill level allows us all to access the character with a complete believability (especially his renditions of "The Origin of Love", "Wicked Little Town", and its reprise, all of which you'd have to be made of stone not to be moved by) his performance lacks the girl-on-the-edge absurdity of other performances I've seen of Hedwig, which left me wanting just a little less "musical theater polish" and a little more "fuck this". Regardless, Morrrisey's performance was amped with a characteristically consistent playfulness which made Hedwig likable even when she was being mean. Hannibal's body language and truly beautiful voice counters with a woundedness that lets the audience understand the price of Hedwig's resentment.
Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is here in Montreal. While this run at Cafe Cleopatra has finished, Noelle Hannibal and Ian Baird will be performing a selection of songs from Hedwig and beyond at Le Minsitère on Thursday August 15th. More information can be found here!