Hedwig returns to the spotlight

Sage Theatre revisits musical for move to new venue

Sage Theatre artistic director Kelly Reay says the company wanted to mark this year’s move to its new performance space in Vertigo’s Studio Theatre “with a bang.” So he looked to the most successful show in Sage’s history — the cult rock ’n’ roll musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch which it staged in 2008.

“We always had a notion we wanted to revisit it one day. It’s my favourite musical if not my favourite play” says Reay.

With Sage’s move to its new space Reay says now seemed the perfect time to stage Hedwig and the Angry Inch once more before “putting it to bed.” He does not however want to describe this production as a “remount.”

“In so many ways it’s a new production. There are a lot of new people in the cast and the creative team” says Reay. “There’s a great familiarity with it but we’re not so close to our first production that there aren’t new discoveries.”

Geoffrey Ewert however does return as Hedwig a transsexual rock singer in search of her identity. The audience comes to see Hedwig and her band The Angry Inch perform a rock concert. Throughout the course of the “concert” Hedwig shares her story through monologue and song.

“Hedwig has a real rapport with the audience. There is no fourth wall” says Reay.

The audience discovers that Hedwig was born Hansel in Communist East Berlin and grew up lonely and looking for love. “He thinks he will find his identity through the person who loves him” explains Reay.

Hansel falls in love with Luther an American soldier. They make plans to marry and get Hansel out of the East and into the West but in order to do so Hansel has to undergo a sex-change operation. So Hansel takes his mother’s name and passport and becomes Hedwig.

Unfortunately the sex-change operation is botched and Hedwig becomes something of a monster in her own eyes. When other aspects of her life fall to pieces Hedwig makes the decision to embrace her surgery and form a rock band. “She thinks by changing a wig or by changing her makeup she can be anything she wants to be” says Reay.

However he adds Hedwig soon comes to the realization that if a person changes their outside façade without addressing what lies beneath it they will still be left feeling hollow.

Despite Hedwig’s birthplace of East Berlin a location potentially loaded with political meaning Reay says Hedwig and the Angry Inch is “not a political play.”

“It’s a human play” he says adding that Hedwig could be considered a “microcosm” for the German people. “It’s a play about identity and the notion of identity encompasses nationality family history sexual orientation. It’s wide and broad and universal” Reay says.

A live band accompanies Hedwig onstage including Alberta musicians Joel Crichton Brendan McGuigan Trevor Rueger and Colleen Brown.

“Hedwig’s story would stand alone without the music but with the music it’s unforgettable” says Reay.

There is also another singer in the band an aspiring drag artist named Yitzhak (Carly McKee) who wants to perform as a woman and who is also Hedwig’s new husband.

While parallels are often drawn between The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hedwig and the Angry Inch Reay says this cult hit is less about camp and more about its bittersweet heartfelt story.

Hedwig said it:

• “How did some slip of a girlyboy from Communist East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you?”

• “I scraped by with babysitting gigs and odd jobs mostly the jobs we call blow.”

• “Some bitch came up to me after the show and said ‘What poor and unfortunate creature had to die for you to wear that?’ ‘My Aunt Trudy’ I replied” (on wearing a fur coat).

• “And when I think of all the people I have come upon in my travels I cannot help but think of the people who have come upon me.”

• “That song was by a young mister Kurt Cobain — now that kid’s got a future!”