It's full moon. It's midnight. It's the start of Pride Month. Where else could you be than Obsidian Theater to revel in the sight and sound of Blake Jackson as the LGBT community's theatrical icon, Hedwig, in the cult musical classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch. To paraphrase the old commercial, You don't have to be queer to be blown away by Mr. Jackson; he's electric and legendary.
Dare I say, in the past five – ten – years, I've never seen such an honest and fearless performance. He enters in a blaze of light, all shockingly tattered, the Norma Desmond of the rock world. Jackson takes the light and never lets go. He's as bright as a klieg light.
Washed-up East German glam rocker Hedwig, nee Hansel Schmidt, looking for love in all the wrong places, fits Jackson like a stained and worn kid-leather glove. Blue eye shadow rings his face as on a cracked-up raccoon; the blood-red lips painted à la Crawford erotically invite and repel; those arched black eyebrows could support a suspension bridge; cigarettes dangle from his earrings; his tacky and ripped denim miniskirt with fake leopard bustier and its broken-heart appliqué, along with those ubiquitous fishnet stockings, is an exacting metaphor for his/her life-quest of sad salaciousness. Hedwig's looking for love, but he's really looking for himself. Jackson blasts through John Cameron Mitchell's book and Stephen Trask's wailing rock score as if loaded with dynamite. He blows the roof off skimpy Obsidian Theater.
Not since Obsidian's blistering American Idiot – also directed in a masterly way by Chris Patton and choreographed by Eric Dano – has there been such a fiery, well-thought-out show. Like Jackson, it's perfect in every way. And it wouldn't matter how small the venue; Jackson and Co. enlarge the space exponentially. On its face Hedwig is a small show: two actors and a rock band. There's a makeup table off to the side with an assortment of platinum wigs on mannequin heads, two microphone stands, two bar stools, and a screen behind the band for the animations. That's it. Yet what a world is brought to life. As with a grisly car crash, you can't possibly look away.
Inside Dr. Espresso's Seattle-based Coffee and Enema Bar, Hedwig tells us his woeful story in song, accompanied by his bored Yugoslavian drag queen husband, Yitzak (an incandescently debauched but golden-voiced Rachel Landon). Born in Berlin, this “slip of a girlyboy” is trapped behind the wall when Germany is divided. Dad, an American GI, has abandoned the family, while dissolute Mom finds solace in drink. Young Hansel is obsessed with American rock and classical mythology. Taking solace from Aristophanes's story of the original three sexes, not-so-innocent Hansel sets forth on his quest to find his other half. When hunky American GI Luther falls for Hansel's ambivalent charms (“Sugar Daddy” – you'll never look at Gummy Bears or Life Savers quite the same after this), a plot is hatched to get married and move to America. The hitch, of course, is that only a man and a woman can get that important visa. A botched sex change operation ensues that leaves Hansel, now Hedwig, with a deformed and scarred nether region, that infamous “angry inch,” which will so define him. He is truly in no-man's land.
He finds himself in Kansas, married, but Luther runs off with another man. Desperate, another transformation occurs. In “Wig in a Box,” Hedwig morphs into a drag punk rocker, singing in low-rent bars, writing songs on the side. That's when doppelganger Tommy, a rising singer, melts into his arms. “He's the one,” Hedwig cries, until Tommy discovers what lurks under the skirt. He flees, appropriating the fame and Hedwig's heart. An inevitable breakdown happens, but there's a happy ending, of sorts, and this final transformation and apotheosis must be seen in the flesh. Acceptance for who one is, or what one has, is Cameron's ultimate mantra.
Hedwig is a cabaret show with a vengeance. It's tremendously bitchy, fraught with wailing emotion and a gimlet-eyed sneer at the world. This is all brilliantly conveyed through playwright Cameron's queer sensibilities (devastatingly delivered by Jackson with bitch-slap timing) and composer/lyricist Trask's pounding score, which decelerates for a lilting pop ballad or two, such as “Wicked Little Town,” shared poignantly by Hedwig and Yitzhak. The music never lets us down, moving everything forward on pulsing waves. The amps are set to 11.
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The keening, extra-fine band is led by Sean Ramos on keyboard and second guitar, Josh Artall on lead guitar, Shane Lauder on drums, and Eric Williams, bass. Hiram Olvera's spirited, cartoonish animations capture the mood with a provocative leer, while Kiara Steelhammer's shrill lighting is aptly over-the-top, as are Shannon Nichols's superbly greasy costumes and Elizabeth Grant's Hollywood B-girl makeup.
The production is brightly conceived and executed with a love that should be named: director Chris Patton and choreographer Eric Dano. The show literally flies as if on theatrical meth, its energy throbbing with forbidden lust and that grunge aesthetic so suitable for Obsidian. In every way, this show is a revelation, a true white-hot eye-opener.
Playing supporting roles for Stages (Big Fish and Who Am I This Time?), because of this starring role, young Jackson moves assuredly into the big leagues. He states in his bio that he plans to move to Houston after the show's run to pursue a full-time acting career. It's about time, Mr. Jackson. The red carpet's already rolled out. It awaits your star shine.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues with midnight showings Friday June 16 and Saturday June 24; and 8 p.m. June 21-24, 29-30, July 1 at 3522 White Oak. For information, call 832-889-7837 or visit obsidiantheater.org. $15 to $30.