Actor Adam Enright became enthralled with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” when it first opened in 1998 off-Broadway. This raunchy, grungy musical about a transgender punk rocker in search of the lover who betrayed her became a cult success through fans such as Enright.
“I used to usher at the Jane Street Theatre so I could see the show for free,” he says. “I am really a nerd for it.”
A native of New Jersey, Enright had just moved to New York City to launch his acting career at the time, so “Hedwig” became a formative experience. A few years ago, he did a stripped down version of “Hedwig” in a Los Angeles warehouse space.
“It was really raw, just me and the band and a microphone,” he says. “And it only ran for three days. It was like being shot out of a cannon, but I loved doing it. It really informed everything I’ve done since, even in my own performance work. It’s so nice to come back to it.”
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Enright stars in Boise Contemporary Theater’s season-opening production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which opens Friday, Oct. 7. It’s a tour-de-force role for Enright that is part lounge act, part rock star, part one-person soliloquy, part comedy and part tragedy on a Greek scale, directed by BCT artistic associate Tracy Sunderland.
“When we decided to do our first musical, this was at the top of a very short list,” Sunderland says. “This fits us perfectly.”
Enright auditioned in New York for the role. This is his first time in Boise.
Hedwig grew up as a boy named Hansel in East Berlin with his mom and abandoned by his father, an American GI.
As a child, he told the story of Plato’s “Symposium” and how humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces, and how Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their missing halves.
“That really did a number on him,” Enright says.
Hansel meets an American soldier who convinces him to have a sex-change operation so they can marry, and she can come to the U.S.
The back-alley operation is botched, the soldier abandons her and Hansel, now a woman, becomes Hedwig, taking his mother’s name. She lands in Kansas, works odd jobs and has an affair with Tommy. They start to collaborate musically, then Tommy steals her songs and her act and becomes a huge popular success.
Now, Hedwig is touring the country — with a stop in Boise — with her scrappy rock band the Angry Inch, which includes her boyfriend, Yitzhak (Tess Worstell), whom Hedwig delights in humiliating. The band’s name also references what’s left of Hedwig’s male genitalia, she tells the audience, among other riveting aspects of her biography.
Hedwig lives in this limbo between East and West, man and woman, celebrity and obscurity, Sunderland says.
“He/she is trying to navigate the world as either/neither one or the other,” she says. “This is the story of how he comes to embrace both. It’s a journey to wholeness in a very cool, rock-operatic kind of way.”
Hot, foulmouthed, tuneful and ferociously funny, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s 1998 rock musical memoir ran for two years off-Broadway. It became an international cult hit that spawned a film in 2001 that starred Mitchell.
Truly ahead of its time in the late 1990s, the world caught up and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” opened on Broadway in 2014, winning Tonys for Best Revival and for stars Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall. (There is now a national tour starring Darren Criss, of “Glee.”)
The BCT production is a cross between that grungy original off-Broadway show, the highly theatrical Broadway production and everything in between, Sunderlund says.
“I feel that we enjoy the spirit of everything that’s come before, and I don’t feel too bad about loving what someone did in a particular version and just stealing it,” Sunderland says. “Something wholly original comes out of that theft. Ours feels very much as if the band actually toured and to Boise.”
Note: This play contains sexually explicit language and adult themes.
‘Hedwig and The Angry Inch’
8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, Oct. 7-22; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Oct. 15 and 22, 854 Fulton St. $34 Fridays-Saturdays, $25 Wednesdays-Thursdays, $20 matinees, $16 all student tickets. 331-9224, Ext. 205; BCTheater.org.