By Patrick O’Brien
Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, the famously acoustic Theo Ubique has gone electric in the name of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Up to 11, in fact; they hand out earplugs. Keep your ears open, though, because they give off quite a reviving jolt.
Hard to believe Hedwig , that titanic Teutonic glam-punk vanguard of queer musical theater, is 20years old; practically an old dame, she is. And “internationally ignored?” This singular creation of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask sprang from Off-Broadway, trotted the globe, and wormed its way into the mainstream enough to warrant a mainstage Broadway production. (Our review of its 2017 tour’s stop in Chicago can be read here.) But even with new normals — of gender, sexuality, music, and combinations thereof — Hedwig and company have always been more at home in out-of-the-way black boxes than plush Broadway houses.
So here she is…“in Evanston!…Chicago-adjacent!”
Coincidentally, her nemesis, ex-pupil, and ex-lover Tommy Gnosis is playing Wrigley Field — actual Chicago — at the exact same time.
Of course, there’s a backstory. Hedwig (Will Lidke) is following an old myth she’s taken to heart, which led her to this liminal space on Howard Street. For you see, all of humankind once quite literally had “their other halves” ripped away from them by angry gods, and they have spent eternity wandering the earth trying to find each other again. Hedwig — née Hansel, a “slip of a girlyboy” from East Berlin — has never been able to find hers. Husband Luther, a US army officer stationed in West Berlin, was only interested in making power plays, the biggest of which led to the botched back-alley sex change operation that left Hedwig with her “angry inch.” He took her to the States, then left her just before the Berlin Wall came down. Tommy, the meek army brat from Junction City, Kansas that she tutored in the ways of rock ‘n’ roll (among other things), couldn’t “love her front.” He ran away, taking the songs they wrote and taking all the credit for his runaway career.
And Yitzhak (Brittney Brown)? He’s just Hedwig’s dogsbody, backup singer, and current husband.
This is to say, try as she might to hide it — if she’s even trying, what with her hoary nightclub banter — Hedwig’s losing control, and she’s gonna explode…
As Hedwig, Will Lidke is a lissome time bomb. Aided and abetted by Robert S. Kuhn (costumes), Keith Ryan (wigs), and, naturallement, Jeremy Ramey (music direction), he can win you over one minute with an anthem as bopping and empowering as “Wig in a Box.” The next, he can show how stunningly cruel Hedwig can be to her band, her own husband, apparently doomed to perpetuate the scarring dynamic of her first marriage. It’s a heavy load for anyone who’s donned the wig, and all the better to see Lidke’s work pay off in such intimate and unvarnished settings.
And though Hedwig tries to obscure Yitzhak’s dreams of drag-queen stardom behind five o’ clock shadow, it’s only a matter of time before Brown opens her mouth, letting loose a glorious sound in her own right, as well as the fury that has choked their union.
It’s a rock show with a unique richness in its language and philosophy, so director Toma Taveres Langston wisely lets it flow out on its own. Some aspects take some getting used to, namely the addition of two backup singers/ensemble players (Adriana Tronco and Jacob Gilchrest). It does make Hedwig that much less lonely onstage, and does dampen some of the more mindscrewy moments in the text.
But then they’re standing next to you, shouting in ecstatic defiance of convention to lift up your hands. And you do. Even 20 years on, Hedwig connects to the misfit lonely half in everyone.
That’s gotta be at least two halves, right? So make yourself whole…and in Evanston!
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” through July 28 at 721 Howard Street, Evanston. More information and tickets information may be found here.