Falling for Hedwig. East Bloc Drag Rock Comes to Jax.

September 21, 2009 23 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

April Hutchinson, widely regarded as one of the brighter quirkier talents of this city is no stranger to this Website, and is an active producing member of Jacksonville's theatre culturati. With a baker's dozen of original shows and work under her belt, she joins us here at Metrojacksonville to create an ongoing conversation about the least celebrated art form in the city: Theatre. Join April as she opens a discussion on Hedwig and its upcoming production downtown.

Falling for Hedwig

      The year was 1998.  I hoofed down to The Meatpacking District in my platform penny loafers.  I was headed to the Jane Street Theater, my heels clicking the beat on the pavement as I walked.  I wasn’t expecting the kind of entertainment I experienced just a month or so before, that elusive night when I heard the most beautiful sounds of my lifetime emerging from one yearly collective known as The Broadway Gospel Choir.  Nothing could possibly compare to experiencing those sounds followed by standing within a couple of feet of Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs as performers from my favorite shows made effortless introductions and chatted about the highlight of the evening: the life changing Alice Ripley solo.

      Taye and Idina were kind upon introduction to fans and friends of friends alike.  I did not approach them.  I was already aware that to do so would be a sacrifice in cool.  We met when, as an intern, I had to track down last minute tickets for RENT for the President of Idina’s fan club.  Until that chore, they were merely voices I listened to from a little apartment in Palatka, as I tried to achieve a degree in musical theater, putting off the academics and relishing in my acting classes.  The call of the city was too strong for me to resist and it was nights featuring two unexpected tickets to events like Choir that reminded me how I was in just the right place, at just the right time. I took in every moment as if my plane ticket was non-refundable and my one-way trip home was scheduled for the following day.

      I continued my clipped pace down to unfamiliar territory to a new show that was quickly becoming the only one to see.  I approached the theatre and I warily made my way into the warehouse of a performing space. I grabbed a beer and a candy bar, looking around I quickly identified them as the refreshment staples of the evening.  My friend tried not to give me a spoiler alert so he went giddy with quiet anticipation as we found our seats and the lights went down.  I had that funny feeling of flight in my stomach.  The same feeling that nearly gave me a heart attack at the start of the unexplainable theatrical feat, De La Guarda.  That’s a show that will literally take you to new heights and here’s hoping you don’t wear a skirt that night.

      John Cameron Mitchell had my complete attention from Moment One.  A slice of energy stuck in a slender frame, head topped with a wig that could light your way home through a darkened alley in Queens.  I temporarily lost track of time until he kicked the back door of the stage open to chastise his former lover, Tommy Gnosis, who was not so ironically, performing at a nearby Stadium.  I took note of the unflinching power in his voice and felt safe in this world.  Hedwig enraptured me and this was the kind of adoration that wouldn’t fade at intermission.  (In fact, all of the décor and furnishings in my home are constantly updated and upgraded but the one thing that never changes is my Hedwig poster.  There were permanent loyalties formed that night and the poster is a reminder of that solidarity.)

      A haunting energy flowed from the character of Yitzhak, Hedwig’s main squeeze, and the sound of his vocals hit me hard.  There was something strange about this man, something I couldn’t put even an angry inch of my finger on.  He had one of the most incredible voices I’d heard since setting up residence in the big city.  The "Rent" shirt he wore under his leather jacket was a nod to solidarity, to art, and to the dreams of the underdog.  The songs follow you home and live far beyond the performance.  Songs like Wicked Little Town, Midnight Radio, The Origin of Love, and the titular, Angry Inch are songs worth investing in and listening to, again and again.  

      I was thankful to the art Gods, that night in 1998, for a chance to witness firsthand such a fireball of a show, written by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by the axe master himself, Stephen Trask.  The journey of Hedwig is something everyone has to take for themselves and the only version I can honestly endorse is the original cast, in 1998, at the little theater that once served as a safe haven for the surviving crew of The Titanic.  Yes, the Titanic.  I also strongly recommend the film, which Mr. Mitchell adapted for the screen.  The film features the original cast and an array of talented performers filling in spaces that could not exist in the original concert style setting of the stage production.

     A great incarnation of the music of Hedwig is Wig in a Box:  Songs from & Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  Featuring artists like Cyndi Lauper, Yoko Ono, The Polyphonic Spree, and Rufus Wainwright, these artists in their own right cover Hedwig’s songs to benefit the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which is home to Harvey Milk High School, a New York City public school for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight students who have experienced discrimination and/or violence at home or at school and are at risk of not completing their secondary education as a direct result.

     Since the chances of anyone unearthing a time machine to take you 1998 anytime soon are sparse indeed, you might feel inclined to embrace a local production at a new venue called The Sinclair, the new arts laden space downtown.  Hedwig and the Angry Inch, performed for the first time in Jacksonville, is almost ready for consumer consumption. The pivotal role of Hedwig is being tackled by local theater staple, Josh Waller.  Josh is known throughout the city as the darling of local musical theater.   Yitzhak, the part brilliantly originated by Miriam Shore is getting another life in the form of Sinclair co owner Maya Adkins.  The band will feature another Sinclair co owner, Brennan Hamill and his band mate, Ryan Turk.

      I hope this production is equal parts guts and glory.  I sincerely hope for the honor of this staggering work penned by a truly dynamic duo that The Sinclair has something ferocious to offer.  I hope to be truly proud of the work that graces our local stages.  Anyone can put on a show and I do mean anyone.  Hedwig is vocally demanding, delightfully deceptive, and occasionally, fully dependent on a seasoned cast.  To deliver a show that is solid enough to make the audience believe they are in that safe space, that moment of suspended belief,... now that is a feat worth reaching into your pocket for.  

Here’s hoping that The Sinclair and their newly formed production company, Just for You Productions does just that.  The advice for any local production might be best related from the lyrics from Wicked Little Town (Reprise), “That, when everything starts breaking down, you take the pieces off the ground, and show this wicked town something beautiful and new.”

      The Show Dates are Sept. 25th & 26th, Oct. 2nd, 3rd, 7th, & 10th.  All Shows begin at 9:30 PM.  The Sinclair is located downtown, in the same spot that once housed the survivors of The Voodoo Lounge.  521 West Forsyth Street.  Smoking is permitted.  Parking is always bountiful.  Beer and Wine, maybe candy bars.