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August 8, 2006

Theater Review - Hedwig and the Angry Inch

[img_assist|nid=2281|title=Photo by Maria Lyle / Florida Studio Theatre|desc=|link=|align=left|width=192|height=200]The Producers Touring Group kicks off a national tour of the off-Broadway musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” in Lexington this week. David Colbert, who plays both Hedwig and Tommy Gnosis, thinks it’s a good place to begin the tour because Stephen Trask, who wrote the music and lyrics for this show, hails from Lexington.The show previewed on Sunday to a small audience that seemed frightened by Hedwig, a transsexual glam rocker girl from East Berlin, as she mocked them, grinded her groin in their faces and cajoled them for compliments.“Hedwig,” by John Cameron Mitchell and Trask, originated off-Broadway in New York, running from 1998-2000; a movie version was released in 2001.The story is a modern retelling of “Hansel and Gretel.” The young Hansel, trapped in East Berlin, is nurtured by music on American G.I. radio. As a teenager, he meets a Yankee soldier (Luther), with whom he begins an affair. While Luther is dying to marry Hansel, the young East Berliner learns that he has to “leave a little something behind” to escape with Luther. His mother arranges a sex change operation that is botched, and thus Hansel becomes Hedwig and the “Angry Inch.” While Luther does marry Hedwig and take her to America, he leaves her destitute in a Midwestern trailer park.Hedwig later falls for Tommy Speck, a Christian Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerd given to philosophy. He remakes Tommy as the rock god “Tommy Gnosis,” who steals Hedwig’s songs and embarks on a nationwide stadium tour. (Colbert says he finds it interesting that the first Gnostic gospel is that of “Thomas.”) Hedwig goes on to marry Yitzhak, an Israeli who becomes her band mate, and, with her band, shadows Tommy’s tour and plays at a string of remote lounges.The story is primarily told through monologue and music, the latter being a mishmash of punk and glam rock with a touch of Meatloaf. It’s not your typical Broadway musical. There are also nods to Debby Boone, Anne Murray and Olivia Newton-John.Colbert, who plays both Hedwig and Tommy, is no stranger to the roles; he’s logged more than 200 performances around the country as the jackbooted East German transsexual glam-rocker. Petra DeLuca (Yitzhak) has more than 100 performances as Hedwig’s Israeli husband under her belt. Colbert and DeLuca are classically trained opera singers who met in Italy.“People get caught up in the glam and the surface of the play,” Colbert says.While Mitchell and Trask wrote the show in the early 1990s, it gained a cult following in the years following the movie release. Colbert thinks the authors anticipated playing to a punk audience that would be hip to parody. “When we first started out Photo by Maria Lyle / Florida Studio Theatre,” he says, “we were all that people knew. Now more people have seen the movie version and they expect to see the characters onstage.”Watching the film version, Colbert says, doesn’t require much effort — but on stage, Hedwig is “more emotionally charged” because she exaggerates reality as the story is told through her monologues and songs. Colbert clearly relishes the role(s), because few works offer so much variety. Hedwig is vicious, yet tender, both victim and victimizer.Yitzhak appears to be a minor character with only a couple of lines, but there can be no resolution without him. DeLuca describes her character as being stronger than Hedwig.“He carries around a lot of anger and is stuck in a crappy relationship with Hedwig, who’s not very nice to him,” she says, adding that it was a tough role for her to nail down.“Lots of people identify with Yitzhak,” DeLuca says. “The theater holds up a mirror to the audience. The show is all about acceptance and love. Everyone can identify with that. Our Sarasota audience Photo by Maria Lyle / Florida Studio Theatre loved it.” Who can say what happens in the play’s end? Everyone interprets it differently.Is Tommy just another aspect of Hedwig? Did they both die in the car crash that pivoted Tommy to stardom? Is the whole thing Hansel’s hallucination while listening to American pop music with his head in the oven? Are we all just empty shells who manipulate others until we reach the Gnostic apotheosis at which point we let go, just as Yitzhak achieves liberation from Hedwig? Are you a boy, or are you a girl? Or are you a girly-boy? With your blonde head-wig, you look like a girl …