Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Throughout the show Hedwig tells and shows us the story of how she got to be where she is today. Born in East Germany, Hansel Schmidt was a "slip of a girly boy" with a serviceman father who disappeared and an emotionally vacant mother. He got hooked on the western rock music he'd hear over Armed Forces Radio and felt stuck between both genders. Upon meeting an American serviceman named Luther, who proposes to him and convinces him to dress in drag, Hansel finds his way out of his hellish life. But in order to marry Luther and escape Berlin he'd have to change his name and undergo a sex change operation that ultimately goes wrong. A year later, Hedwig is broke and alone living in a trailer park in America, watching the Berlin wall come down on her small TV screen, which meant that everything she suffered and endured was for nothing. But a collaboration with a teenage boy named Tommy Gnosis turns her life around until further life obstacles get in her way and result in her doing these small club shows to tell her story.
Hedwig originally debuted Off-Broadway in 1998 with John Cameron Mitchell, who also wrote the book, starring as Hedwig. Stephen Trask's score offers a wide range of music styles and some incredibly poignant lyrics and Mitchell's book is chock full of witty jokes, double entendres, off color remarks, and personal anecdotes.
Director Pasha Yamotahari has done an exceptional job in ensuring his cast and band achieve the raw, rough and gritty nature of the characters but also create unique and compelling individuals we can identify with. Scenic designer Aaron Jackson transforms the Hormel Theatre into a seedy nightclub, complete with a working bar, stage right. Because of the intimate and somewhat small scale of the production, and the small size of the Hormel space, the heart of the story doesn't get lost through the addition of any unnecessary elements. However, the inclusion of an intermission, which wasn't present in the original version, does slow the momentum down a bit.
With a powerful voice and solid stage presence, Caleb Reese is excellent as Hedwig. Reese delivers a multi-layered performance with the wide range of emotion that Hedwig endures yet underneath her self-absorbed and somewhat nasty exterior we never lose site of the humility and search for love and acceptance that is always present. There is an abundance of self-deprecating humor and audience interaction which Reese maneuvers through with a skillful and poised delivery that never is out of character and always makes you have sympathy for Hedwig's plight and how she uses humor and her commentary with the audience to attempt to deflect her inner fears. Reese has powerhouse vocals and incredibly clear diction that, under Dave Temby's excellent sound design and Miles Plant's music direction, make all of Trask's meaningful lyrics come across loud and clear. It is a powerful and powerhouse performance.
As Hedwig's current partner Yitzhak, Alyssa Chiarello's continually downcast eyes and sullen demeanor perfectly evoke the sad man who cherishes and idolizes Hedwig even though Hedwig constantly treats him with contempt. When Chiarello gets to let lose vocally, her piercing notes stun.
Terre Stead's smashing hair and glitter-heavy make-up designs and Adriana Diaz's colorful costume creations transform both Reese and Chiarello into glam, punk rock versions of the opposite sex. Plant, Cullen Law, Michelle Chin and Lauren Mckay make up the band and all provide exceptional musical accompaniment, as well as vocals on the pre-show and intermission music. Daniel Black's lighting creates some gorgeous effects and Reg Madison's video components are a nice complement to the touching "Origin of Love" segment.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a beautiful story of a person who struggles to come to terms with their identity and how, until a person can accept themselves, they can't truly find love. It's also about the persistence and constant pursuit of one's dreams. The musical is laugh out loud funny but also a very personal story about love and acceptance and the journey to find the meaning of love that anyone can relate to. Phoenix Theatre and A/C Theatre Company have created an energetic, rough, crowd-pleasing and enthusiastic production.
Phoenix Theatre's co-production with A/C Theatre Company of Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs through November 12th, 2017, with performances at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling 602-254-2151.
Director/Musical Staging: Pasha Yamotahari
*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.