Who knew the racy, raunchy, rockin’ musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” would be a hit in Boise?
I mean, it juggles transgender issues and all the nuances of the complex terrain of gender equality with every clever pun, joke, song and bat of its star Adam Enright’s glittered eyelash. Aren’t we supposed to be conservative? Maybe, but the packed audience at Boise Contemporary Theater on Saturday, Oct. 15, of people of all ages and persuasions both embraced the show and were swept up in it as Enright ran through the audience, climbed on seats and periodically confronted an audience member or two (all in good fun).
BCT’s first musical, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” opened Oct. 8 and has all the markings of a local cult hit. BCT artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark extended its run through Saturday, Oct. 29.
The musical is a 90-minute straight-through, rock/lounge show hosted by Hedwig, who tells the story of her life. It starts with Hansel, a young boy with a German mother and American soldier father. Dad abused him and then left the pair in East Germany after the Berlin Wall went up. A budding musician obsessed with cliché American pop, he eventually meets another American soldier, who convinces him to have a sex-change operation so they can marry, and she can come to the U.S.
After the botched back-alley operation, they do get hitched, but later the soldier abandons her in Kansas, where she works odd jobs and meets Tommy. They start to collaborate musically, then Tommy steals her songs and her act and becomes a huge popular success. Now, Hedwig, her band the Angry Inch — a scrappy four-piece — and her boyfriend Yitzhak (the wonderful Tess Worstell) — are following Tommy’s sell-out tour. Tommy is performing at Albertsons Stadium just across the river, and that just eats Hedwig alive.
Writers John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask created Hedwig to embody a Cold War — not the detente-ridden Russian/American political struggle — but the war being waged inside the character between male and female, self and other.
And New York actor/singer Enright is perfectly poised in the role. He’s lithe and athletic. Though not pretty in the classic sense, he looks great in a micro mini and is thoroughly charming. Enright gives a commanding performance filled with sequined-booted rock ’n’ roll kicks, screaming high-noted power ballads and poignant moments of self-realization. He’s funny, disarming and increasingly authentic as the show progresses. In the end, he leaves it all on the stage — both literally and metaphorically — as he leads the audience through Hedwig’s emotional journey.
Worstell’s Yitzhak is equally compelling. Her character takes loads of humiliating insults from Hedwig until his true nature emerges in the end. Worstell’s voice soars on “The Long Grift” and the anthem-like “Midnight Radio.”
Director Tracy Sunderland tooled this production to fit BCT aesthetic and physical space. The stripped-down production harkens back to the show’s off-Broadway roots and hits the right tone between totally out-there raunchiness and just plain fun.
The set, designed by artist Sue Latta, turns BCT’s black-box space into a seedy rock club, with side sets for Hedwig’s reminiscences. Center stage is where much of the sass and brass of Hedwig’s performance happens, bathed in Raquel Davis’ rich, warm lighting.
BCT has always been a great music venue, and with sound designer Fred Loucks’ touch, the music’s not too loud. And he wonderfully creates the far-off sounds of Tommy’s concert across the river each time Hedwig opens the backstage door.
Darin Pufall’s fun and outrageously camp wigs and costumes make the show. A favorite is the Dusty Springfield-esque yellow and orange dress with a skirt made from bright-colored loofah gloves. Also, credit goes to prop mistress Willow Socia for her increasingly extravagant and delightful headpieces Hedwig pulls out in “Wig in a Box.”
The Inch (music director and guitarist Thomas Paul, bassist Melanie Radford, keyboardist Riley Anne Johnson and drummer Louis McFarland) handle the musical numbers that fuse glam rock, punk and R&B, and the occasional lounge styling, extremely well. And each song, as performed by Enright and Worstell, is a crowd-pleaser — they even get a singalong going on “Wig in a Box” and again involve the audience in “Midnight Radio.”
What’s remarkable about the show is that it’s a reminder that we all share the same basic components of humanity — regardless of how we dress or who we date. The success of “Hedwig” in Boise is perhaps a measure of how far we’ve come in this country in our acceptance of LGBT issues. Now, this rough and edgy off-Broadway cult hit enjoys mainstream success with an award-winning Broadway production, and it can play well in the heartland of the Intermountain West.
‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’
8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, Oct. 19-22; and Thursday, Oct. 27-Saturday, Oct. 29; 2 p.m. Saturday Oct. 22, 854 Fulton St. $34 Fridays-Saturdays, $25 Wednesdays-Thursdays, $20 matinees, $16 all student tickets. 331-9224, Ext. 205; BCTheater.org.