Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 92, A Review: "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (Fairfield Center Stage)

By James V. Ruocco

A funny thing happened on the well-traveled road from Bridgeport to Fairfield.

Two very important theater people...Christy McIntosh-Newsom and Eli Newsom....found themselves fueled by the idea of starting a brand new theater group from inside out and top to bottom.

To jumpstart their dream, they invited the community (who came out in droves), to support and cheer their special outdoor presentation of "The Music Man in Concert" this past summer. Soon after, a full season of plays, musicals and concerts, was quickly put into place. And suddenly, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" became the season opener for this brand new theater group, aptly titled Fairfield Center Stage.
They they haven't looked back, since.


"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is brilliantly layered and conceived in such imaginative ways, it not only deserves to be seen, but propels Fairfield Center Stage to the top of the leader board as one of the theater community's newest and brightest creations of the 2018-2019 season. The musical itself explodes in every color of the rainbow (no pun intended) and dazzles with enough theatrical savvy, wit and ingenuity to claim its place as one of the season's brightest and best experiences in Fairfield County.

Do not miss it!

Written by John Cameron Mitchell, the actor/singer who originated the part of Hedwig in the 1998 off-Broadway production at the Jane Street Theatre in Greenwich Village, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" tells the complicated story of a proud, determined but largely ignored song stylist who, after surviving botched gender-reassigned surgery (thus, the "angry inch" of the musical's title), decides to embark on a worldwide tour to tell her sad story accompanied by her "Angry Inch" rock band and Yitzhak, a Jewish drag queen from Zagreb who has become her back-up singer and husband.

Based on the success of the recent "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," which she directed with plenty of glam, glitz and drag queen oomph, who better to direct "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" than Christy McIntosh-Newsom. She knows the subject matter inside out. She is very familiar with the drag scene persona from heels and make up to feathers, glitter and sparkle. She understands the passionate art form that is drag. She is also sensitive to its language, its creativity, its decidedly different beat and its unique presentation before a live audience.

Here, she crafts a brilliant, personal and intimate piece of theater that comes from the heart and magically unfolds with the sensationalism, bravura and showmanship that always categorizes her work in theater. She is a major force to be reckoned with and one that makes you want to stand up and cheer, clapping madly and shouting "Bravo!" at the 95-minute musical production she has shaped and molded so effortlessly.

Her input works on every level. There is real honesty and angst in the main character's complex, genderqueer story, its development and its true underground conclusion. The intimacy of the small space heightens that essential aura and fascinates at every turn. And finally, there's the actual concert, which is staged with just the right amount of radicalism, desperation, energy, expression and poignancy John Cameron's Mitchell's wildly creative script demands.

The musical and lyrics for "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" are the brainchild of Stephen Trask, an American musician and composer who graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. An infectious mix of glam rock, explicit gay content and hard rock punk, the music itself is unique on every level, as it drifts from melodies and edgy ballads to explosive puck sounds and rock tirades that serve the "Hedwig" story and material well. It is original. It is fun. It is queer. It is hard. It is fucked-up. It is character driven. It is an experience like no other. Then again, that's the point, isn't it?

The "Hedwig" songbook itself contains eleven wildly inventive songs guaranteed to smack you in the face, kick you in the ass and work you into an emotional frenzy comparable to the drug-induced euphoria that once put Studio 54 on the map. They are "Tear Me Down," "The Origin of Love," "Sugar Daddy," "Angry Inch," "Wig in a Box," "Wicked Little Town," "The Long Grift," "Hedwig's Lament," "Exquisite Corpse," "Wicked Little Town (Reprise)" and "Midnight Radio."

In the musical, Josh Sette, Christopher Cavaliere, Charles Casimiro and Gabe Nappi not only comprise the "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" onstage band, but double as the musical's characters Jacek (bass),  Schlatko (drums), Krzysztof (keyboard) and Skszp (guitar). All four bring the
cultish "Hedwig" musical score to life, playing each and every one of the songs the way Trask originally intended.
What's remarkable about this foursome is that it's all very naturally conveyed and perfectly in sync with moments that are improvised by the onstage actors, the audience and just about everyone else. It's fast, aggressive and rebellious. And it's played at a fevered tilt that compliments the night's hardcore proceedings, its blistering song tracks and its solidified smoky, sweaty, seedy, grunge mania.

To thrust Hedwig's musical story into the limelight and give her the rock star dazzle she craves, Emily Frangipane has been enlisted as the show's choreographer. As "Hedwig" makes its mark, Frangipane combines punk-rock glam and music into wild, outrageous patterns, movements and rhythms that superbly compliment the intimate space of Hedwig's concert world and the frenzy that erupts when everything unravels, both musically and dramatically.

Her work is captivating, punchy, gritty and emotional, driven by hard-hitting and kinesthetic action, reflective in the music, the drama and the heat of the moment. It is also full of well-orchestrated, fun surprises that, at times, involves unsuspecting members of the audience. One male, in fact, nearly gets the "angry inch" of Hedwig's you-know-what, shaken, stirred and gobsmacked into his bewildered face as the musical swells and Frangipane allows Hedwig to let it all hang out, so to speak, with dizzying dance movements and choreography that is amazingly brilliant and fucking outrageous.

It's the role of a lifetime and it's a role that Lance Anthony, last seen as Bernadette in McIntosh-Newsom's thrilling and colorful production of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," was born to play. And play it he does and does and does. It's the performance of the season and one that the actor invests with wild, unapologetic abandon, wonder, sincerity and punk rocker exactness. We feel his pain. We feel his lust. We feel his sexiness. We feel his gayness. We feel his anger. We feel his cusp of the drag world, its persona and its artfulness. He is every inch (no, pun intended) the star that John Cameron Mitchell was in the original off-Broadway production, but he's no copycat. His Hedwig is a true original, wig flick and all.

As Yitzhak, the ex-drag queen who becomes the frequent object of Hedwig's verbal and mental wrath and abuse, the versatile Alexis Willoughby offers a moving, haunting portrait of an individual forced
to remain in the sidelines, but longing for a place in the spotlight, if only fleetingly. The actress, in fine voice, also gets to accompany Anthony on background vocals and duets. And when the big moment comes ("The Long Grift" solo), Willoughby not only owns the moment, but belts out the lyrics with a passionate, powerhouse delivery that shakes, rattles and nearly blows the roof off of this prime Kings Highway Cutoff venue.

In conclusion, "Hedwig and the Angy Inch" is a stunner. The Trevi Lounge is a venue perfectly suited to the nature of the piece and its rock concert glam. Lance Anthony is a stunning Hedwig, a perfect showman and a dazzling drag queen. Alexis Willoughby as Yitzhak, is the perfect right-hand showman and long-suffering partner. Christy McIntosh-Newsom's direction is topical, determined and illuminating. Emily Frangipagne's choreography is pop-cultured and iconic. And the band goes that extra distance most spontaneously.

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" kicks off Fairfield Center Stage's inaugural season, which includes "The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Movie with Live Floor Show," "Onward & Upward, a 2018/2019 Benefit Concert," "A Christmas Carol Experience," "FCS Rocks: Queen, A Night at the Opera,"    "Dreamgirls," "FCS New Works: Vows,"  "The Secret Garden" and "The 2019 Playathon."

With Christy McIntosh-Newsom (Artistic Director) and Eli Newsom (Executive Producer) at the helm, the lifeline for Fairfield Center Stage is going to be a very, very long and prosperous one. Just look at their track record.
They love theater. They love the art form. They love the people. They love the actors. They love the  production team. They love the audience. And everyone loves them.

Inspired by the concept of environmental theatre, this enigmatic and talented twosome have put the town of Fairfield "center stage" by offering a variety of plays and musicals that showcase the town's amazing, different venues.  It's a challenge, yes.
But with the groundwork laid, it's time to say "Welcome Everybody" and roll out that welcome mat and say, "Goodbye, Bridgeport....Hello, Fairfield."

"Hedwig and the Angy Inch" is being presented by Fairfield Center Stage (Trevi Lounge, 548 Kings Highway Cutoff, Fairfield, CT), now through September 15.
For tickets visit the FCS website.
For more information, call (203) 416-6446 (voice mail only) and leave a message.
website: fairfieldcenterstage.org

No comments:

Post a Comment