PROVO — When I first heard that An Other Theater Company was going to be producing Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I was immediately excited, albeit, quite skeptical. I have seen great work from An Other Theater before, but I have to admit, I was nervous that this new company could pull off a musical that requires immense talent to be successful. Directed by Kacey Spadafora, this production blew me away, and I am more than happy to say that I was enthralled by every minute of it.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with a book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Steven Trask, first premiered Off-Broadway in 1998 and was later adapted into a movie with the same name in 2001. In 2014, the musical made its way to Broadway, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical that year. Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows the character of Hedwig, a glamorous transgender rock performer from East Berlin during communist reign. In order to escape the political climate and be married, Hedwig is forced to undergo what would become a botched sex change operation. The musical recounts Hedwig’s history concerning her love life, music career, and her band, The Angry Inch, so titled as a play on Hedwig’s anatomy. The musical is a lively, loud, and irreverently humorous exploration of identity and gender.
Musical Director Marshall Madsen brought the music to life in this production. The largely energetic musical numbers in this show were obviously inspired from the 1970’s glam rock style of David Bowie, early punk style of Iggy Pop, as well as the 90’s grunge style of Kurt Cobain, to name a few. The show is presented as a musical act or concert of sorts as Hedwig follows rock star Tommy Gnosis’ tour around America, determined to tell her side of the story as she and Gnosis were former lovers and music partners. The Angry Inch band is featured on stage, and provides the instrumental music in the production, as well as backup singing for Hedwig. Members of the band are Krzyzhoff (guitar) played by Robert Ikey Starks; Jacek (bass) played by Celeste Fay; Schlacto (drums) played by Scott Robinson; and Skszp (keys) played by Brooks Hiatt. All were exceptional in their musical abilities and did well interacting with Hedwig and the audience.
In this production, the role of Hedwig is double cast with Cleveland McKay Nicoll and Jordan Kramer. The night I attended featured Nicoll as Hedwig. From the moment Nicoll appeared on stage, I was captivated by him. Throughout the night, I loved seeing Nicoll express more feminine or masculine attributes depending on what the character was portraying. Nicoll interacted with the audience frequently, brilliantly playing off the reactions from audience members, ad libbing at times to provide much of the comedy. During almost every musical number, Nicoll dominated the stage as Hedwig and seemed to truly embody the words and essence of the songs he sang. Watching Hedwig’s story was entertaining and inspiring from start to finish.
The only other character in the show, aside from The Angry Inch, is Hedwig’s husband and fellow band mate, Yitzhak, played by Laura Chapman. Hedwig, clearly wanting to be the star, is intimidated by Yitzhak’s talent. Hedwig treats Yitzhak poorly, giving him little attention or stage presence, which Yitzhak craves as a former drag queen. Chapman plays this dynamic well, and as she sings backup on most numbers, is incredibly vocally talented. Yitzhak does get a moment or two to own the stage, and Chapman proved she is a powerhouse performer, doing the character justice.
The design elements for the production were all equally well done and enhanced the characters’ development and believability. The costume design by Ash Knowles worked nicely with the hair and makeup design by Mel Howarth, providing both Hedwig and Yitzhak with natural, well-fitting wardrobe choices based on the characters’ personalities. Makeup and costuming also helped provide an identity for the band, making them all the more enjoyable to watch. The same can be said of Ryan Throckmorton Fallis’ lighting design that emphasized the particular mood dictated by the music or story context. I would also like to mention Scott Cladwell who was responsible for the set and projections design. The projections, utilized to add media to the production using an old-style overhead projector, were a nice touch, adding a fun component to the show.
I cannot give enough praise to An Other Theater for their brilliant production and their choice to produce it. With excellent directing, acting, and design, all elements came together masterfully to create an incredible production I never would have thought I would see in Provo, Utah. The intimate space turned out to be a perfect venue for the exciting and inspirational musical. Hedwig is an interesting character with an interesting story—one that is certainly worth experiencing.