Hedwig and the Angry Inch brings rock’n'roll to TheaterLAB’s stage
There are those who disregard the notion of perfect timing, that such a concept is pure superstition and nothing more.
But to hear Maggie Roop and Matt Shofner talk about the planning and preparation behind TheatreLab’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which made its on-Broadway debut this year starring Neil Partrick Harris, one can’t help but admire the timing of it all.
Ropp, who is the director and producer, and Shofner, who plays the role of Hedwig and is a producer as well, have followed the show since it’s made its debut in 1998 as an off-Broadway production, but the initial groundwork for this version has been over two years in the making.
“We’ve been talking about doing the production of this show for a couple years,” Ropp said. “And I’ve always sort of imagined Matt in the role.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch tells the story of Hedwig, a transgender woman and her rock band The Angry Inch. The show is presented in an extended monologue, allowing the audience to get a first hand view from Hedwig’s perspective.
Hedwig hails from Germany, during the time when the Berlin Wall was being built. She is left on the east side of the wall, and yearns to leave the country and move to America, the land of all things rock ‘n roll. While still residing in Germany, she meets an American soldier by the name of Luther Robinson. The two fall in love and decide to get married. Hedwig’s mother arranges for her daughter to have a sex change, but things don’t go as planned.
“The operation gets botched, leaving Hedwig neither male nor female,” Shofner said.
And this is just the beginning of Hedwig’s problems. Within a year of their marriage and life together in the United States, Luther leaves her for another man, stranded in the state of Kansas with few connections and no real sense of direction.
“[T]here she is, literally in the middle of a new place, thrown into the center of existence,” Shofner said.
But all is not lost. Hedwig comes into contact with Tommy Speck, a young teenager with whom she begins to write songs with. The musical chemistry is strong, the stars seem to align, everything is in its right place, and yet everything goes wrong once again.
Tommy becomes a famous rock musician and takes credit for the songs he and Hedwig wrote together. Left with no other option then to perform her music, Hedwig and the Angry Inch set out on their own tour, playing at venues near Tommy to “set the record straight” about their past and potential future.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is known by many as a rock musical, but Ropp believes it goes above and beyond your normal musical fare.
“I would almost go as far as to say that I almost don’t consider it a musical,” she said. “It’s kind of rock ‘n roll and a one-women or one-person performance, and these all kind of intersect. The music isn’t typical of theater, and I think it’s even different from most other rock musicals.”
The score, composed by Steven Trasks, combines elements of 70′s rock, 80′s glam, punk, and even doo-wop. Think Lou Reed. Think David Bowie. Think of any great band from years past, and chances are you’ll find bits and pieces of them in Hedwig.
But the production isn’t merely paying lip-service to rock n’ roll. The songs serve a purpose in the evolution of Hedwig herself, from her childhood dreams of American rock to her band and the dives bars they play at.
Each song represents, as both Ropp and Shofner point out, a deeper insight to Hedwig’s emotional state at any given time throughout the performance.
“You’re . . . hearing the songs that Hedwig herself has written . . . chronologically throughout the story she’s telling,” said Ropp.
Had TheatreLab decided to put on the production of this show even a year ago, it might have been unheard of for most people.
Although it has received acclaim and maintained a fervent cult following over the years, it wasn’t until this year that Hedwig and the Angry Inch became a household name.
It’s on-broadway debut certainly hasn’t hurt in terms of publicity, with Ropp referring to it as “free marketing,” but it also showcases a less-glamorous version that Broadway just can’t provide.
Shofner believes the downtrodden character of Hedwig will resonate with audiences in Richmond.
“I think that’s one way our production will benefit,” Shofner said in comparison to the Broadway production, which both Ropp and Shofner thoroughly enjoyed. “It won’t be done yet, so it’s going to have a down-and-out, kinda grungy, low budget vibe to it, which really helps to preserve the story.”
Thankfully in 2014, the word transgender has less of a stigma than in years past.
People are starting to see how complex the issue and identity really is, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch helps bridge the gap for those who may not be fully aware of how similar everyone is, regardless of their gender or sexuality. Given her struggles and hardships, Ropp believes Hedwig will be a relatable character for many.
“She didn’t completely choose to be in the position that she’s in,” Ropp said. “She was somewhat forced into it, and I think she really owns it and decides to embrace . . . her life as a woman. That will make her situation a lot more relatable.”
With all of this relatability and rock ‘n roll, it’s hard to see how one couldn’t have a blast attending Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens Friday, October 31 at The Basement on 300 East Broad Street and will run through November 15. You may purchase tickets here.
“Basically it’s S-and-M porn,” Vanda bluntly asserts about the script…April 18, 2016
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