Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
The Q Collective
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of Indecent

Sarah Gene Dowling and
Luke Steingruby

Photo by Elizabeth Rajchart
I've seen a "head-banger" Hedwig, and another that was brilliantly psychotic and drugged out-looking, and a third that slips my mind at the moment. The writing for the show is so clever and deft, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask and book by John Cameron Mitchell, that it seems that Hedwig and the Angry Inch can withstand almost any interpretation, when an actor stands alone, as the botched transsexual from the former East Germany. The 1998 Off-Broadway concert musical may be the theatrical equivalent of a little black cocktail dress, which any confident young actor can slip into and always look great.

But perhaps this production at The Q Collective is also influenced by the occasion. I saw it on a Saturday night at the Monocle, in the Grove, on the 50th anniversary of Judy Garland's death, with the smart, brash young Luke Steingruby in the title role. In any case, he and director Jordan Woods had found yet another strong conception for the brilliant but failed singer who married a serviceman and ended up in a trailer park in Kansas. Psychologically in tune with Ms. Garland, this thrashing entertainer is also a consummate victim of circumstance, always waiting for permission from the more self-assured people around her, who aren't nearly as good. And, like the real-life Judy Garland, Hedwig is ultimately thrown away by a world that was careful, first, to take away everything she had to give.

Unlike the movie star, there's hardly any tremulous heartbreak, nor awkward stammering for mercy aimed at the people Hedwig's been propping up all along, out of the purest form of love. Mr. Steingruby's performance is blithely self-aware, but also witty in a self-abnegating way, and even that seems to resonate in our minds with the former Frances Gumm. In this Hedwig, a previously unnoticed element in the writing emerges at last: an odd combination of emotional passivity, or dependency, unexpectedly coupled with great dramatic showmanship, that's hard to turn away from. She just wants to be a great woman behind some great man. But, as both divas could attest, it's usually the man that got away.

This is actually the second time I've compared Luke Steingruby to Judy Garland, but that's probably just an odd coincidence. He was more like the "young Dorothy Gale from a mirror universe" in The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told last year. But he's always able to project such likability, and good stories (by their very nature) do terrible things to likable people. Of course he's got the relentless drive of a 1970s glam-rock singer in songs like "Angry Inch," and a noble truthfulness in ballads like "Wig in a Box" and "Wicked Little Town." His version of "The Story of Love" strides forth like all the animals coming down the aisles in The Lion King, bearing a mythology all its own, along with the whole reason for love. Hedwig also pays heartwrenching tribute to her former protégé Tommy Gnosis in "The Longest Grift," among all the other remarkable songs of this 90-minute show.

There are little updates here and there, which may even increase and become overwhelming in future productions, as our memory of the Cold War years recedes. Here, the already hilariously off-balance Hedwig straddles something new: an ever-widening gap between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the updates in his monologs here in 2019. She no longer mentions "8-track" music (in "Wig in a Box," it's now a "tape deck"), which is not that big a deal, unless you go to "show tunes night" at the bar way too often. And there's a reference to Adele that wasn't here before, among other small concessions to the passage of time that haven't yet ripped a major hole in the dramatic unities of time and place.

However, we may be approaching a moment when we'll need a glossary in the program to explain the mentions of Iron Curtain era East and West German leaders Erich Honecker and Helmut Kohl, even as newer, modern references become more pervasive. When that happens, at some point in future revivals, our grasp on the precise era in question could be genuinely shaken—not unlike the geo-politics, and sexuality, and even the loves of Hedwig Schmitt.

Till that day, Mr. Steingruby carries it all off perfectly, and the band at the Monocle is very good, with a shockingly good light plot and cue-calling. And the Emerald Room at the Monocle is the perfect venue for a little concert show like this. Sarah Gene Dowling is the best sidekick, Yitzhak, I've seen so far, owing to her keen grasp of nuance as the Jewish ex-drag queen who will put up with Hedwig (almost) all of the way through. But also because she adds so much vocally, as well.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, through June 29, 2019, The Q Collective, at the Monocle, 4510 Manchester Rd., St. Louis MO. For more information on The Q Collective, visit their Facebook page.

The Cast:
Hedwig: Luke Steingruby
Yitzhak: Sarah Gene Dowling

The Angry Inch:
Keyboard: Holly Barber
Guitar: J. Michael
Bass: John Gerdes
Drums: Joe Winters

Production Staff:
Director: Jordan Woods
Assistant Director: Camille Fensterman
Music Director: Holly Barber
Stage Manager: Casey Richards
Costume, Makeup, and Wig Design: Lauren Smith
Lighting Designer: Brian M. Ebbinghaus
Sound/Light Operator: Matt Monroe
Costume Master: Flynn Hayes
Artistic Director: Sean Michaels
Artistic Advisors: Tina Farmer, Scott Miller
Graphic Designer: Kai Kiefer
Photo Light Designer: Jim Robert