Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch By Text John Cameron Mitchell Music & Lyrics by Stephen Trask
Athenaeum Theatre 1
Sept 7 to 17, 2006
Tues to Thurs 8pm, Fri & Sat 7.30pm & 10.30pm Sun 5pm
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is both a gut-busting rock show and a journey of self-discovery. The star of the story, played by the androgenous Iota, is Hedwig, the transexual drag queen previously known as Hansel Schmidt.
Hedwig grew up in East Berlin with a po-faced German mother and an absent father. By his teen years he was seduced by a wholesome American GI, who insisted Hansel have a sex change so they could marry and move to the US.
But the plan goes horribly wrong when the operation leaves Hedwig with only an angry inch of his manhood intact and no female genitalia to replace it, neither man nor woman.
The stage show is a rock concert with really raunchy songs sung by the extraordinarily talented Iota. His voice is huge, his performance bold and his portrayal of the damaged and furious Hedwig is, by turn, hilarious and poignant, vulnerable and outrageous. It is Glam Rock that harks back to the 80s.
John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote and performed the role, and his musical collaborator, Stephen Trask, were nominated for awards galore for Mitchell’s performance, the script and music.
The live band, led by Musical Director, Tina Harris fills the Athenaeum with a series of hot songs. Iota is joined on stage by an underused Blazey Best, playing Yitzak, Hedwig’s beleaguered husband.
Iota’s voice is explosive and versatile. He can belt out a rock number as well as a power ballad. He opens the show with Tear Me Down, a song about both the Berlin Wall and Hedwig’s own shattered ego.
He follows with the slower, Origin of Love, in which Hedwig dreams of his other half, the potential lover who will complete him. In The Angry Inch, Iota drives home a beefy rock tune.
Hedwig was soundly dumped by her own creation, Johnny Gnosis, a teenager who made it big as a rock star by singing all of Hedwig’s songs. Johnny, Hedwig believed, was her destiny, the one to complete her.
But the simple philosophical resolution to the story is that Hedwig strips off her platinum wig, her trashy dress and boots and false eyelashes to be revealed and reborn as the boy he was, in the likeness of Johnny Gnosis. He sings Wicked Little Town and Midnight Radio. Let’s not be too sentimental about this, but Hedwig has come home and found herself – her own true love.
Jason Robert Brown’s two-person musical, The Last Five Years, is a poignant experience for anyone who has been touched by the sad ending of a loving marriage. It really brings a tear to the eye.
Jamie Wellerstein, played with passion by Matt Hetherington, is a 23-year old novelist who aspires to greatness and picks up a young lovely wife, an agent, a publisher and a writer’s award all in the matter of five years. He is vibrant, ambitious, egocentric and relentlessly positive – right up until the death knell of his marriage can be heard.
Laura Fitzpatrick is sweet-voiced and charming as the under-confident and under-achieving Cathy. In the first of their five years together, she is filled with hope for her future as an actor and her relationship with Jamie. Slowly, her sense of failure rises and her competition for Jamie’s attention shatters her.
Is it any wonder Brown’s ex-wife threatened to sue him for revealing their troubled marriage?
Director, Peter Fitzpatrick, keeps the scenes moving, concentrating on the emotional layering and the counterpoint of their two experiences. The live band, under Vicki Jacobs, is raunchy and skilful.
Apart from having a marvellous score and singable tunes, the show has a strikingly original structure. While Jamie’s story goes forward in time from their first meeting, Cathy travels in reverse from the lonely, painful ending back to their bright-eyed beginning.
This shape generates fascinating collisions. While Jamie naively sings he will defy his Jewish mother by loving a “Shiksa Goddess”, Cathy sits alone in their apartment singing I’m Still Hurting. When Jamie reaches the end of their rocky ride, packs his bags and sings I Could Never Rescue You, Cathy, with girlish romantic hope, waves goodbye for the first time to the young man she loves. It is heart wrenching.
The only moment when they communicate directly is at their joyful marriage, sweetly singing the duet, The Next Ten Minutes about spending a lifetime together.
Hetherington’s voice is versatile and rousing; he can belt a funky number such as Moving Too Fast or croon the sad ballad If I Didn’t Believe in You. He is engaging and he gives us insight into the life of the successful young writer.
Laura Fitzpatrick’s bright and warm voice brings naivete and delicacy to Cathy, fitting for this child-woman who cannot understand the demise of her marriage.