'Hedwig' is theater's first show

Laughs, music tell sassy story of singer with botched sex-change operation
2013-02-14T00:00:00Z 'Hedwig' is theater's first showKathleen Allen Kallen@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star
February 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A confession:

I went to almost every performance of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" when Etcetera staged it four years ago.

It was irreverent, sassy, funny and often profound. Plus, the music rocked and the performances were completely engrossing.

So you can imagine the delight when it was announced the talent behind that production, Christopher Johnson, is mounting the show again.

"Hedwig" will be presented under the auspices of Johnson's new company, The Bastard (Theatre). It opens tonight.

"People have been asking us to do it again since the night it closed four years ago," said Johnson, who is producing, directing and, once again, starring as the German transgender singer with a gone-wrong sex change operation.

Also returning is Dani Dryer in the role of Hedwig's androgynous sidekick, Yitzhak.

"Dani and I both knew we wanted to do it again when we were older and closer to the characters' life experiences," says Johnson.

"And we wanted to do it in a much bigger way, and on our own."

Every Etcetera performance - eight of them over four weekends - sold out.

Johnson hopes for the same when he brings it to The Screening Room stage.

And given the material, he expects his hopes will be realized.

"'Hedwig' is the ultimate ode to unrequited love," says Johnson.

"One of the things that fascinates me is that on the surface it's about a German punk goddess with a botched sex change operation. … But it is about unrequited love - for the man that got away, but also unrequited love of self."

Given the character's peculiarities - the "angry inch" in the title refers to what's left after Hedwig's male-to-female sex change surgery; Hedwig wears big wigs and dresses in drag; she's angry as all get out and that's reflected in her music and her 'tude - it seems unlikely many could identify with Hedwig.

"The character is so ambiguous and so far away from what we can relate to," said Johnson.

"But when you realize all her rage and bitterness is because of her lonely heart, it makes it easier to relate to her. She's so far away, but she comes up right behind you with how funny she is, how wild and crazy and unexpected, and how fun the music is. At the end of the day, it's such a basic human story about being unlucky in love and trying to find the love in yourself."

The musical by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask was first staged off-Broadway, opening on Valentine's Day in 1998. It snagged awards and, more importantly, legions of fans who call themselves "Hedheads."

In 2000, Mitchell adapted the play for the screen (which he starred in, as he did the stage production), and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" spoke to lovers of rock, punk, off-beat stories and compelling characters.

It certainly spoke to Johnson, and not just as a fan. As an artist, as well.

"I'm part drag queen, punk rocker, gender queer ... they are all a part of what I do," he said. "In 'Hedwig,' I get to use every crayon I have in my box. … 'Hedwig' is the closest I've ever come to fully utilizing the tools I have as an actor."

This is the first production for Johnson's The Bastard (Theatre), whose creed is, according to a release, "Violent. Lusty. Straight from the gut." He isn't sure when or what the next offering will be.

But he does know this: plays will be geared toward audiences in the late teens to the 30s, playwrights will be young, the plays out-of-the-norm, and the prices cheap.

"I really believe that is the only way theater will stay alive," says the 28-year-old Johnson. "That's the next generation of audiences."

If you go

• What: The Bastard (Theatre) production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

• By: John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask.

• Director: Christopher Johnson.

• When: 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, tonight through Feb. 23.

• Where: The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.

• Tickets: $15.

• Reservations/information: 425-4163.

• Running time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

• Cast: Christopher Johnson and Dani Dryer. The band, led by David Lane, consists of Miles Bartlett (guitar), Andrew Lane (drums), David Lane (piano) and Ben Schneider (bass)

• Warning: Mature subject matter; no one under 16 admitted.

• Check it out: Find rehearsal videos and Christopher Johnson's Hedwig blog at hedwigtucson.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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