Created by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, the multiple Obie and Tony Award®-winning musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has found its rightful home at Austin’s ZACH Theatre.
“Hedwig” is pure, unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll. Its soundtrack is explosive, its content is provocative, and it expertly blurs the lines of gender and sexuality. In keeping with the town’s “Keep Austin Weird” adage, this musical celebrates the strange, the outcast and the ambitious. (It’s also not recommended for audiences under the age of 17. Time to call the babysitter!)
ZACH’s production follows the story of Hedwig, a genderqueer rock singer who escapes East Berlin following a botched sex-change surgery and attempts to start a new life as a performer in America. After being slighted by Tommy Gnosis, her rockstar ex-boyfriend who rose to fame with songs that she penned, Hedwig tells the audience her side of the story, smashing the fourth wall in the process.
Brought to life by the talented Daniel Rowan, Hedwig is an electrifying, fully-developed character. She is compelling, sympathetic and, as all complex characters are, occasionally unlikable. Accompanied by her husband, Yitzhak, played by vocal powerhouse Leslie McDonel, the two tell a captivating story of human struggle, sacrifice and, in the end, triumph.
A highlight of the show was “Sugar Daddy,” a fiery rock song that prompts Hedwig to don a glittery corset and ice cream cart, using the entire theater as her stage. Backed by “The Angry Inch,” her on-stage rock-band, Hedwig climbed through the audience, dancing on seats and spanking lucky audience members with a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop. The energy that this performance created transformed the audience from idle onlookers into a part of the cast, encouraging a level of participation and excitement that carried through the rest of the show.
In addition to the groundbreaking score, the show is undeniably funny. It’s not easy to keep an audience engaged for two hours almost entirely on your own, but Rowan delivers timely, well-constructed jokes with the nuance of a seasoned stand-up comic. Not for the close-minded, the show features quips about Texas immigration policies, a children’s book titled “Goodnight Trump,” and pays homage to Austin’s most famous drag queen, Leslie, keeping the content relevant to its presumably liberal audience.
The most impressive moments, however, might have been the least exciting of them all. Rowan showed an expansive range in his ability to bring the audience down from a punk-rock adrenaline rush into moments of quiet, raw vulnerability. Nearing the end of the play, Hedwig strips away her glittery exterior, silently crouching into the fetal position before rising with the sense of confidence and inner peace she previously lacked.
Showing at ZACH until March 3, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is an inspiring and up-beat rock show, perfect for a fun night out with friends. Tickets start at $30.
Cover photo Kirk Tuck
Austin native Lindsey Sageser recently graduated from the University of North Texas.