Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
The Stray Dog Theatre production is my third Hedwig "concert" over the years, and each one has been very different from the others. So even if you've seen it, you've probably never seen it the same way twice.
It's always a punked-out, raucous affair, surprisingly bittersweet, and (equally surprisingly) also wonderful, by turns. The music and lyrics by Stephen Trask are driving and (occasionally) unforgettable.
Michael Baird stars as a brilliant rock and roller, who survives a botched sex-change. And gradually he becomes well acquainted with the irony of giving up everything that makes him what he is, at every crossroads. It's a different texture of tragedy from other productions, and thanks to a slightly more sympathetic performance by Mr. Baird, Hedwig's setbacks and sacrifices finally become our own.
Justin Been directs, with Anna Skidis Vargas as Hedwig's latest protégé, Yitzhak. Her beautiful singing heightens the richness of the story, and Mr. Been's guidance gradually makes an especially towering Hedwig into a lowly figure of sacrifice and pity, through playwright John Cameron Mitchell's anguished, wry libretto. I would have liked to have seen more hostility (initially) between Hedwig and Yitzhak, but these two stand up very well by comparison to past stagings.
And there's an especially powerful transformation near the end, as this Hedwig gives up his last symbol of self to take another even less-traveled road: branching off into the unknown. Stray Dog's production is one of those rare tales where the weakest character becomes the strongest, by subtraction.
Great work on the concert elements, especially by Chris Petersen and his rock bandthe instrumentals in the best-known number, "Wig in a Box," are lovely and stirring. Heartfelt and affecting animations by Ryan Wiechmann add an endearing skein to the corrosive attitudes and pounding beat of a show from 1998. It was the very late twilight of punk, when we'd finally begun to see the '80s in perspective.
Through April 16, 2016, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.
The Angry Inch