Arts and Culture Editor
Stephen Trask’s heart-pounding gender bending rock musical, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” now playing at EPAC, is a piece of theatre like no other. It is part rock concert but also at times feels like a stand-up comedy event as Hedwig breaks the fourth wall and shares hysterical double entendres with the audience.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, tells the story of a transgender rock star named Hedwig, who is performing a one night only concert event with her band, The Angry Inch, and her husband Yitzhak. She is performing out of anger and frustration over her ex-lover, Tommy Gnosis, who stole her songs and heart during their love affair. Her band, The Angry Inch, is named after the “one-inch mound of flesh” that was left from Hedwig’s botched sex change operation. This seemingly odd piece of theatre pays tributes to those who feel like they are outcasts and losers. It is also an exploratory piece about finding your other half and life and ultimately feeling completeness.
Zander Gawn is absolutely magnificent as Hedwig. Many well-known actors in recent years have taken on this iconic role, some include Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C Hall, Darren Criss and even Taye Diggs. Gawn manages to make the role completely his own and has plenty of fun interacting with the audience. He also gets to show excellent dramatic range and pathos during Hedwig’s moments of vulnerability, in the moving time-spanning ballad, “The Origin of Love” and in the triumphant tribute to the “misfits and losers,” “Midnight Radio”. The character begins the piece with an iconic bright blond wig and various coats that share relics of her past. As these various coats and masks come off, the audience gets to see the real individual behind the makeup. Gawn, who delivers Stephen Trask’s heart pounding songs with great spirit, truly disappears into this role and really takes the audience on a journey.
Elizabeth Checchia is a complete revelation in her performance as Hedwig’s stoic yet wounded husband, Yitzhak. In a full beard and makeup, Checchia truly transforms into this man. Although Yitzhak does not speak very much, Checchia’s piercing facial expressions and body movements do the talking. Yitzhak is a drag queen who marries Hedwig on the promise that he will never perform in drag again. Throughout the story, the audience sees Yitzhak’s silent resentment towards Hedwig that suddenly bursts out in the heart tugging ballad “The Long Grift”. Checchia delivers this crushing rock song with an anger that is extremely palpable and affecting. She also shines in the finale number “Midnight Radio” in a surprising and moving sequence. Checchia also develops strong and raw chemistry with Gawn’s Hedwig which feels completely sincere and lived in. That is a testament to the powerhouse talent of these two masterful performers.
Special mention must also be given to Zach Smith, James Lipka, Matt Subers, Jeremy Blouch, and Nick Smith, who serve as the members of Hedwig’s band, The Angry Inch. Not only do they play the piece’s songs with reckless abandon, but they also take on the punk rock energy of the band with incredible flair and showmanship. Watching them play is a show within itself and one that begins even before the actual performance.
Edward Fernandez directs this knockout production with true humanity and humor. He gets excellent performances out of the entire cast, who find new layers to this already very moving story. “Hedwig” as a piece of theatre encourages adapting some jokes for the location it is being performed in. Some jokes about the Amish community and a certain local celebrity are particularly funny. The set design by Mike Rhoads and lighting design by Jeff Cusano are also extremely strong. Rhoads’s immersive set design transforms the entire theatre into a stadium- like environment that simply crackles with personality. Cusano’s gorgeous lighting inspired by rock concerts is truly something to behold. They heighten the raucous and infectious nature of the glam rock numbers, “Sugar Daddy” and “Wig in a Box”, while also feeling raw and intimate in Hedwig’s most personal moments. The same can also be said for the wonderfully atmospheric sound design by Chris Dissin.
Last, but certainly not least, the make-up by Jaclyn J. Kossor, costume design by Kate Willman, and choreography by Kristin Pontz truly astound and help bring these outstanding and colorful characters to vibrant life. Willman’s costumes and Kossor’s makeup for Hedwig start out very flashy and full of punk rock influences. As the evening goes on, and the wigs literally come off, and Hedwig’s true self and identity is revealed. It is an incredibly poetic and graceful process that is further complemented through truly outstanding costume and makeup design. Pontz’s buoyant choreography also adds energy and thrills to the evening, particularly in the hard rocking number, “Angry Inch,”, and the triumphant opening number, “Tear Me Down.”
EPAC, as a performing space, commits—per their slogan—to putting on “Theatre that matters;” and their current production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”proudly and heroically commits to this promise. With utterly affecting performances from Gawn, Checchia, and the entire cast, plus outstanding production design, this is truly storytelling at its best and most innovative. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” gives a voice to those in the LGBTQ community and even those who have ever felt alone in the world. Although very specific,“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a universal tale of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human. It is more than just a musical, but in fact an emotional experience. This hard rocking spectacle is a poetic beauty that should and urges to be seen.