Friday, April 8, 2016

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog’s latest production has every bit the vibe of a rock concert when you walk into the theatre. The band, typically secluded somewhere behind the set, is front and center, warming up before the show. Rob Lippert’s scenic design features TV screens and speakers galore. The bar, usually out in the lobby, is in the house on the floor against the stage, with a pair of Stray Dog alums (the night I went) serving as bartenders. So grab a drink and buckle up -- you’re about to be entertained by the song stylings of Hedwig, a genderqueer rock singer from East Germany, and her band, The Angry Inch.

Hedwig (Michael Baird) is in town for a St. Louis engagement, and during her roughly 90-minute show, we’ll hear about her younger years as Hansel Schmidt, her travels, misadventures, heartbreaks and her surgically fucked-up sex change operation that leaves her with, what Hedwig has titled, an “angry inch” -- her band’s namesake. A cheeky, tortured and fiercely funny Baird is in full command of this diva, carrying the titular headliner on his shoulders, holding the audience, and making the most of John Cameron Mitchell’s improvisational book. At times full of cavorting swagger and at other times slowing heartbreak, Baird physically and vocally handles numbers like, "The Origin of Love,” "Wicked Little Town" and “Midnight Radio” assuredly.

(l to r) Skszp (Chris Petersen), Hedwig (Michael Baird)
and Yitzhak (Anna Skidis Vargas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Hedwig’s not alone, though. In addition to her band, she’s also joined by her put-upon husband Yitzhak (Anna Skidis Vargas), a former drag queen who now shares a codependent relationship with Hedwig. In hallmark fashion, Skidis Vargas adds her clear, soulful vocals to the duets and backup, and a well pitched performance in the role of a lover who cares deeply for Hedwig, as contentious as their relationship might be, killing the song, “The Long Grift.” Hedwig pretty much treats Yitzhak like shit though. She believes her true soulmate is someone she can’t have. That’s Tommy Gnosis -- a hugely successful rock star and one-time collaborator with Hedwig, currently on tour at Busch Stadium, milking fame from Hedwig’s songs. Shadowing his steps by following his tour, Hedwig plays the much lesser dives along the route, unable to let Tommy, a person she sees as her other half, go.

Hedwig (Michael Baird)
and Yitzhak (Anna Skidis Vargas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Glam rock style is provided by Priscilla Case's wigs and makeup design, and Eileen Engel's costume design. Ryan Wiechmann’s illustrations and animations add a great deal of texture throughout the show (particularly during the mythic “The Origin of Love”). The band, under the direction of Chris Petersen, aka Skszp, brings Stephen Trask’s music and lyrics to dynamic life.

With sure-handed direction by Justin Been, this 1998 rock musical, rowdy and surprisingly poignant, may not be a show for everyone (leave the kids at home), but seeing Hedwig make the journey from life on the conflicted fringes toward self-understanding and acceptance is gratifying, and something everyone can relate to. You should get a ticket before it sells out, because it most certainly will.


HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH

Book by John Cameron Mitchell
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask
Directed by Justin Been
(front) Sarajane Alverson. (l to r) Skszp (Chris Petersen),
Hedwig (Michael Baird), Krzyzhtoff (A.J. Lane),
Jadzia (M. Kuba), and Yitzhak (Anna Skidis Vargas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through April 16 | tickets: $20 - $25 Signature Seating: $45.00
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday, Additional performances 8pm Wednesdays, April 6 and 13

Cast
Hedwig: Michael Baird
Yitzhak: Anna Skidis Vargas

Creative
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Wig and Makeup Stylist: Priscilla Case
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Costume Designer: Eileen Engel
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Kevin O’Brien
Illustrator/Animator: Ryan Wiechmann

Hedwig (Michael Baird).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The Angry Inch
Bass, vocals (Jadzia): M. Kuba
Drums, vocals (Bob): Bob McMahon
Guitar, vocals (Krzyzhtoff): A.J. Lane
Keyboard, vocals (Skszp): Chris Petersen

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