The theatre is dark, the rules are announced, and the band breaks into America the Beautiful as a solitary figure in a blonde wig and cape approaches the stage. Waiting is the band and a drag king in leather jacket, denim, and do-rag, with the sad-downcast eyes of a domestic abuse victim. The figure approaches the mic and in a reveal reminiscent of FranknFurter in the Rocky Horror Show, the cloak is opened to reveal a facsimile of the Berlin wall, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s title character breaks into the show’s first song Tear Me Down.
Following a successful run in November 2018, In the Wings’ Promotions’ production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was invited to be part of Montreal Pride’s official programming. As director and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal put it:
“The show is so iconic in the community, that it’s the perfect fit for Pride.”
The venue has changed from Cabaret Mado to Café Cléopatre, but aside from a few enhancements, the show is every bit as riveting as during its first run.
For those of you unfamiliar with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it is the brainchild of actor John Cameron Mitchell and musician Stephen Trask, who developed the off-Broadway show which then became a cult film and from there a Broadway show starring Neil Patrick Harris. The show is about a slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin and is a blend of glam and punk rock, politics, and gender bending, with tunes so catchy even the biggest curmudgeon will be dancing in their seat.
Trask was a major part of the first Montreal run, sitting on dress rehearsals and answering Hannibal’s texts as needed. The result is a show that’s more than just pretty makeup, gender-reversals, and catchy tunes.
In my review of the show’s first run, I noted that the relationship between Hedwig – played by New York based actor Andrew Morrissey, and Noelle Hannibal’s Yitzhak was interpreted as one of domestic abuse. In this rendition that portrayal is enhanced with more passive aggression by Yitzhak – there are muttered curses, and spitting, and Yitzhak’s eyes seethe with the hatred of the powerless for their oppressor.
Morrissey’s Hedwig contains more deference for Yitzhak’s talent, as if the abuse comes from the recognition that her talent is no match for Yitzhak’s and she can only shine by putting him down. It provided more nuance to the characters from a script that by Hannibal’s own admission, had very little to guide them.
Morrissey’s Hedwig is much improved from the November run. Though his German accent is on and off and his voice is occasionally pitchy, you see more madness behind the makeup, more sincerity behind the line:
“I’ll laugh because I’ll cry if I don’t.”
With this more nuanced portrayal is all the sass and sex the part requires, and Morrissey pulls that off beautifully.
As important to the production as its stars are the band and costumes. Hedwig undergoes multiple costume changes during the show and designer Sig Moser clearly understood what the show is all about.
“He was very familiar with the show and the film version and brought in some fantastic ideas that would work with our extremely tight, indie budget. He can whip up a dress in an hour,” said Hannibal, whose own costumes were tweaked to work better for this run.
The outfits are an amazing mix of showmanship, denim, leather, lace, and sequins, a true nod to music genres you’ll live during the show.
The band, made up of Ian Baird, Kevin Bourne, Stephen Menold, and Sebastian Balk-Forcione, are not passive background musicians, but people who must actively interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak on stage. Though I wished the tempo of Tear Me Down was a bit quicker, the band did not disappoint. Decked out in punk rock pieces and colored hair, they are an amazing accompaniment to a show that features glam and punk rock in all its glory.
That said, the show is iconic for a reason, so come with an open mind. You won’t be disappointed!
The current run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch finishes tonight. Tickets available through HedwigMontreal.com