Hedwig returns to LOT,
and this time she's serious
by Drew Rowsome
Hedwig is being remounted - Hedwig would probably relish delivering that sentence as a double entrendre - so, to remount a previous review:
Is Hedwig the new Hamlet?
Whenever an actor tackles the daunting lead role in Hamlet, it is a true test and subject to much speculation . . .
The role of the diva at the heart of Hedwig and the Angry Inch brims with similar challenges. The role requires quicksilver mood changes, a huge emotional range from defiance to despair, and, not to be underestimated, the ability to create that arc while singing and dancing. The character of Hedwig is a star turn and the production will soar, or fail, on the strength of that star.
Not to disagree with myself but that was then and this is now. As the Lower Ossington Theatre has done previously with Rent and Avenue Q, a remount and recasting can also mean a serious revamp. Director Alan Kinsella (The Woman in Black, Hair) and the stellar cast have taken what was a great production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and dug into the text to create something deeper than the previous version. The production has moved physically from the cabaret space into a theatre space, and moved conceptually from a theatrical musical to a theatrical dramedy with music.
Ephraim Ellis is new to LOT and comes with a pedigree including Degrassi: The Next Generation, Falcon Beach, the slasher musical Stage Fright, and sketch comedy fame with The Rocket Scientists. In this production Hedwig's story, her journey, moves to the forefront and while it is a less bravura performance than many, it is an intense one that moves effortlessly from bravado to vulnerability, from anger to tears. Ellis is an adequate but not distinctive singer so characterization becomes critical, and for the most part he succeeds admirably. When he sings in "The Origin of Love,"
But I could swear by your expression
That the pain down in your soul
Was the same as the one down in mine
That's the pain
Cuts a straight line
Down through the heart
We called it love
we understand, and more importantly feel, Hedwig's anguish. Even more so when belting,
My sex-change operation got botched
My guardian angel fell asleep on the watch
Now all I got is a Barbie Doll-crotch
I got an angry inch
Ellis's comedic skills are very much in evidence and this Hedwig barely needs the rimshots provided by the band. Her sly smile and crinkling eyes follow a joke or one-liner with a feigned innocence worthy of Bette Midler, Dolly Parton or a skilled drag queen. The audience is dragged totally into her confidence and utterly seduced. Ellis gets every laugh that John Cameron Mitchell's book contains but I would question the choice of leaving traces of back hair (the lights are unforgiving when wearing a low cut dress) in order to accentuate a throwaway line. Hedwig also proves to be a stellar mimic by taking on the personas of the people in her past with actorly aplomb. In service of the story, and as a demonstration of Ellis's skills, this is a welcome addition but in terms of the production it calls Hedwig's reality into question and temporarily breaks the fourth wall.
With Hedwig being played in service of the script - paradoxically something a real Hedwig would never consent to - the Angry Inch becomes a key component, interacting and sharing the spotlight. There are relationships on stage, everyone is working together to create, rather than a star and her back-up band, no matter how much the character of Hedwig would characterize it as such. Kit Boulter in particular benefits from this approach and Yitzhak not only shines vocally by exercising a powerful set of pipes, but also provides a dramatic counterpoint that makes the denouement cathartic for all rather than just for Hedwig.
I suspect John Cameron Mitchell would be delighted to see this production, Hedwig is taken as seriously as Hamlet and the richness of the story and themes are burnished until they shine. If a little bit of the rock n' roll energy is lost in the process - though the impressive light show and enthusiastic band do pump up the energy - it does perfectly illustrate Hedwig's fate as an "internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you." As she herself says, "To walk away, you have to leave something behind." This Hedwig is less interested in strutting her angry inch than she is in showing us the depth of her soul.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues until at least Sat, Sept 27 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave. lowerossingtontheatre.com