BWW Review: Holliday, Rankin Shine in Street Theatre Company's HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
Blake Holliday's jaw-dropping performance as "international song stylist" Hedwig Schmidt is reason enough to book your tickets as soon as possible to witness the actor's transformation in a 90+ minute production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch now ensconced at Nashville's Street Theatre Company through July 6. But there's another performance which is just an impressive and just as awe-inspiring from Natalie Rankin, who transforms into Itzhak, the "husband" of Hedwig whose hangdog expression and considerable stage presence clearly rivals that of the show's eponymous star.
Written by John Cameron Mitchell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows Hedwig from her boyhood in East Germany and her subsequent status as an émigré to the United States as the wife of an American GI who ultimately leaves her high and dry in a Kansas trailer park, catapulting her on her way to the top of the charts, more or less. Her journey is a circuitous, wild and crazy one, but it's filled with moments that challenge Holliday and Rankin both to create characters who are accessible and believable.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch may confound you, to be sure, but you'll leave the theatre enlightened thanks to the sheer theatricality of the show brought to life by Holliday and Rankin.
Holliday, who has created something of a cottage industry among local theater companies by playing characters in drag to great critical and audience acclaim, has made a name for himself with performances as Margaret Mead in Circle Players' hit revival of Hair and as the female Greek chorus in How I Learned to Drive.
It should come as no surprise that Holliday was cast as the titular character in director Randy Craft's staging of John Cameron Mitchell's subversive musical: Everything he has done onstage thus far (which includes the lead role in Actors Bridge's Hand to God and a principal role in Circle Players' The Full Monty) has led him to this particular moment - and make no mistake about it, Blake Holliday seizes the moment and makes the role of Hedwig his very own.
At once engaging and courageous, Holliday transforms into a character so true and authentic (despite teetering across the stage in heels - clad in a succession of towering blonde wigs that evoke memories of Top 40 chanteuses like Anne Murray, Toni Tennille and Olivia Newton-John) that his no-holds-barred performance is breathtaking in its intensity. As Holliday manages to strip away all the artifice that brings Hedwig to life, in order to show us the vulnerable and driven personality beneath the sequins and mascara and the heart which powers the characters he plays and his own astounding career.
As theatrically compelling as Holliday's Hedwig is - she's a character unlike any other in contemporary theater, emerging from a botched sex change operation to become a deserted housewife in the middle of the plains of Kansas - and the actor manages an authentic portrayal that is stunning and over-the-top, yet somehow down-to-earth and honest.
Delivering what amounts to an extended monologue, interspersed with songs that reflect the character's experiences, replete with her dogged determination to achieve the same stardom as her pop culture idols - like Debby Boone, Olivia Newton-John, Barbra Streisand, etc. - Holliday interprets the story of Hedwig's long-lost love Tommy Gnosis and the circumstances that have created her new American persona and that "angry inch" that exemplifies her pursuit of pop music stardom. The resulting show is fast-moving and topsy-turvy, careering from one hard-to-fathom event to another, all the while delivering heartfelt emotion along the way.
Rankin, who has her own starry resume to show for the time she's spent on local stages, has never been given such a showy, outlandish opportunity as she gets as Itzhak, complete with a show-ending transformation that is notable for its impact. She literally stops the show.
Shane Kopischke, Ryan Smartwood, Grady Byrne and Charlie DeVillers supply plenty of their own brand of starpower as members of Hedwig's band, The Angry Inch, and they deliver the goods, performing Stephen Trask's music.
It's theater of the highest order, rendered by artists who are worthy of the challenge and who need an audience to play to - don't miss it!
Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Words and music by Stephen Trask. Text by John Cameron Mitchell. Directed by Randy Craft. Presented by Street Theatre Company, 1120 Elm Hill Pike, Nashville. Through July 6. Running time: 90 minutes. For details, go to www.streettheatrecompany.org or call (615) 554-7414.