Picture it: A gay boy from East Berlin gets wooed by a sugar daddy, finds the opportunity to go to America by way of a sex surgery that inadvertently gets botched, and ends up becoming a transgender rock star.
At least, that’s how director Chris Patton loosely describes the upcoming production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, produced by Obsidian Theater in association with Standing Room Only Productions, which runs June 7 through July 1.
“It’s an hour and 25 minutes of a band playing, and it just so happens the lead singer has been through darkness, trials and tribulations, and for whatever reason, this will be the time she decides to open up and talk about the band and these songs,” says Patton.
If unfamiliar with the character of Hedwig, just imagine David Bowie, Grace Jones, Toni Tennille and RuPaul all combined into one person. It only gets more interesting as she starts to unveil her story throughout the evening.
The cult classic is a little bit of rock-and-roll theater and a little bit of self-exploration.
“What grabs me the most about this piece is that it’s not necessarily gender identity or rock and roll,” says Patton. “It’s as simple as discovering who you are, and whether you call that individualization or self-identification, it’s just discovering your personal identity, and gender is only a small part of that.”
Most people may have heard of Hedwig and the Angry Inch thanks to Neil Patrick Harris' triumph in the Broadway adaptation, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Yet, its history starts off much more humble.
Hedwig was originally conceived as a rock musical written by John Cameron Mitchell with lyrics and music by Stephen Trask. It opened Off-Broadway in 1998 and captured the Obie Award as well as the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical.
Patton recalls how he first learned about this production when it debuted.
“I had a friend who would go see it in the Village on Jane Street, and he would get on AOL and rant about it. I was fascinated,” Patton said.
It then became a film in 2001 staring Mitchell as the titular character, Miriam Shor as the faithful sidekick Yitzhak and Michael Pitt as the love interest Tommy Gnosis.
According to the box office, it was a flop. For fans, though, it was only the beginning of Hedwig's reign.
Several celebrities have donned the Farrah Fawcett-esque wig and rocker boots of the leading lady. Through the years, regional theaters have mounted the production with stars like film and stage alum Anthony Rapp, American Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis and RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon. The production is currently on a national tour.
That tour will not stop in Houston, though, so this is the chance to see local talent present this gender-bending journey of self-discovery. For this production, Blake Jackson will play Hedwig alongside Rachel Landon as Yitzhak.
The musical is typically staged in smaller venues in order to capture the feeling of being close to Hedwig as she tells the story of her life.
“What’s fun about a space like that is you can play with it,” Patton says. “I really like that because of the contrasting nature of this show. It can turn on a dime from being loud and confrontational and explosive to being quiet and intimate.”
“There are so many times that it’s a fireside chat with Hedwig,” he adds.
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As an homage to the gritty late-night theater from which it originated, as well as in tribute to June as LGBT Pride Month, Hedwig will have special midnight showings leading up to Houston Pride Festival.
For a month geared toward embracing all different walks of life, the timing for Hedwig couldn't be more impeccable.
"It's the ultimate discovery that she is her own safe haven despite all the loss and sadness she suffered. We are watching her in front of our eyes make that all-important discovery to be that safe haven for herself," says Patton. "That can only happen when you accept yourself for who you are and make peace with your demons. You need to be comfortable with who you are. That's a simple message, but it gets lost in the shuffle."
Catch Hedwig and the Angry Inch June 7 through July 1 at Obsidian Theater, 3522 White Oak. Tickets range from $15 to $30 and can be purchased at obsidiantheater.org.