BWW Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH Wows at Stray Dog Theatre
John Cameron Mitchell's (text) scathing and kinky rock and roll cabaret, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, is given its just desserts with Stray Dog Theatre's memorable production, which is currently running at the Tower Grove Abbey through April 16, 2016. Michael Baird bares his soul as tortured songwriter, Hedwig/Hansel, forever altered and made androgynous by a sex change operation gone horribly, horribly wrong. It's more than that though, and what makes this presentation especially powerful is the way that Baird interacts with the crowd, gamely challenging them to listen to his/her angst-filled lament. With a score by Stephen Trask, this show is just amazing to listen to and react to. Trask finds the right voices in song for the various moods and emotions being touched on at any given moment, and a tight band led by Chris Petersen brings that vision to light. Go see it!
I've already said most of the plot. It's the story of a young lad named Hansel who lives alone with his mother in East Berlin, ironically right before the wall came down. Why you say? Because a suitor has him adopt the name Hedwig on a passport right before he undergoes the fouled up gender change. From there it switches paths to tell the story of another Hedwig encounter that features future rock star Tommy Gnosis (also played by Baird at one point), who gets more than inspiration from Hedwig, but passes her by on the way to fame and fortune. What we're left with is a concert, peppered with smart little local references along the way, that takes us through this unusual tale in thoroughly arresting fashion.
Michael Baird does wonderful work, decked out in Eileen Engel's imaginative costumes, while working to a packed house that appreciated his exceptional talent. The songs are all over the place, not adhering to a strictly specific style, but most are hard edged in one way or another, and are a nice match for Baird's voice. Anna Skidis Vargas contributes immensely as Yitzak, Hedwig's husband, who provides back up vocals, and occasional lead vocals for the band. She's buried under a beard and heavy clothing, but you can definitely feel the power of her distinctive voice cutting through the mix. The band has to be included in the cast because they're part of the concert you're witnessing, so props should go to the splendid performances of Jazia/M. Kuba (bass, vocals), Krzyzhtoff/A.J. Lane (guitar/vocals), Bob/Bob McMahon (drums,vocals), and music director Skszp/Chris Petersen, who also delivers the goods on keyboards and vocals. Even Sarajane Alverson was rocking the bar that sits directly in front of the stage, which was available for libation ingestion throughout the show.
Director Justin Been has built another powerhouse winner with this staging. Tyler Duenow's sensational lighting scheme neatly complements the action, while Rob Lippert's scenic design allows Hedwig to scale new heights. Ryan Wiechmann's illustrations and animations really provide additional eye candy that's never too distracting, and always on point. I should also make mention of the wigs and makeup by Priscilla Case. This is a hilarious, sad, shocking, tasteless, moving, rockin', and compelling experience that's not to be missed.
Photo credit: John Lamb