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Theatre review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch is powerful

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Ryan Alexander McDonald in the Ghost Light Projects production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Photo by Graham Spence Photography & Fine Art.

Given there is so much to like about the current Ghost Light Projects production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch it is perhaps ironic that the show opens with the line: “Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not…”.

Told as an extended monologue by Hedwig during one of her concerts, she recounts her metamorphosis from the young East German “slip of a girly-boy” Hansel to the tragic Hedwig who escapes communist rule through a botched sex-change.  As she recovers from having been dumped by the G.I. who helped her escape, she forms the band we see tonight and helps to create a rock star out of a shy Christian boy who she renames Tommy Gnosis.  Gnosis repays her by stealing her songs and goes on to being wildly-successful; not by accident Gnosis is playing at a sold-out BC Place concert, while Hedwig and her band plays The Cobalt.

Ryan Alexander McDonald in the Ghost Light Projects production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Photo by Graham Spence Photography & Fine Art.

Ryan Alexander McDonald in the Ghost Light Projects production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Photo by Graham Spence Photography & Fine Art.

A remount of sorts for Randie Parliament who last produced the show in Vancouver six year ago, this new production may see a new cast at a new location, but it loses none of the gritty realism that made it such a critical hit in 2007.

Of course no production of this John Cameron Mitchell/Stephen Trask cult musical can succeed without a talented performer in the lead role and here Ryan Alexander McDonald slips into the role as easily as Hedwig slips into her Farrah Fawcett wig.  With a voice that easily handles Trask’s rock music with ease and finesse, McDonald brings a new dynamic to the role.  Powerful and compelling as he tells Hedwig’s story, McDonald’s skill is highlighted as he takes center stage at the end of the show.  Now transformed into the man who has stolen her songs and fame, his face shows remnants of Hedwig with a few specks of smeared glitter red lipstick still visible.  This lasting image is as powerful as his reprise of “Wicked Little Town” and “Midnight Radio” and it comes as no surprise as the audience last night jumped to their feet.

Giving support to McDonald is a terrific gender-bend performance by Lee McKeown as the long-suffering Yitzhak.  Her performance of “The Long Grift” is simply beautiful.  The joy she expresses when Hedwig places the wig on her head at the end is heartfelt and bursting with feeling.  The Angry Inch band (Kat Gillis, Chris Couto, Camille Fournier and David Spidel) are top-notch.

Mounting the production in The Cobalt not only suits the grittiness of the show, but continues the tradition of using non-theatrical venues to ensure the playwright’s vision of keeping it “free-flowing, improvisational, alive” is honoured.  The animations from Jason Husmillo and Nancy Dhillon that are projected behind the band add an old-school MTV video vibe to the proceedings.

Whether you’re a Hedhead or considering Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the first time, MacDonald’s fearless performance is worth the price of admission alone; the rest of this outstanding production is gravy.  With its powerful story of self-discovery, identity and ultimately acceptance, it will resonate and touch anyone who has ever wondered how they fit into this world.  I suggest you get your tickets now.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Book by John Cameron Mitchell.  Music and lyrics by Stephen Trask.  Directed by Randie Parliament and Greg Bishop.  Musical direction by Mark Reid.  A Ghost Light Projects, Carpe Ictus Music and Laughing Monkey Productions presentation.  On stage at The Cobalt through November 2, 2013.  Visit http://ghostlightprojects.com for tickets and information.

Mark Robins on Google+

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