“This ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ goes the distance”
– Christine Dolen, The Sun Sentinel
Wrapping up the first season in its sleek new home at the Pompano Beach Cultural Center, Outre Theatre Company has transformed its large-scale performance space into a place where the storytelling feels intimate, provocative and wildly theatrical.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” that difficult-to-categorize musical by John Cameron Mitchell and composer-lyricist Stephen Trask, kicks butt and takes names. If you happen to be wearing socks, stars Mike Westrich and Kat Gold, backed by the tight Angry Inch band, will knock them off. Maybe make them spontaneously combust.
First produced off-Broadway two decades ago, the Obie- and Tony Award-winning “Hedwig” intertwines its narrative with a score that hops from glam rock to punk to aching laments.
Genderqueer and sexually frank, full of humor and rage and sorrow, the musical leaves a bit of room for topical cracks. As the complicated title character, Westrich obliges with coolly delivered zingers aimed at the current president, his wife, TV talker Megyn Kelly and a nearby theater company.
Between the show’s powerful musical numbers, the actor fills the audience in on Hedwig’s rocky life story.
Born Hansel Schmidt, the self-described “slip of a girly boy” grew up in communist East Berlin. Abandoned by his father, unnaturally close to his aloof mother, Hansel was wooed and won by a G.I. named Luther Robinson, who proposed and offered a new life in the United States. One hitch: Gay marriage wasn’t legal, and a physical exam would be required to prove Luther was marrying a young woman. Hence, the quickie botched gender-reassignment surgery that would make Hedwig’s sex life way more complicated going forward.
Life in a Kansas trailer park proved no easier. Abandoned by her hubby, Hedwig keeps body and soul together by doing many things — some illegal — and eventually meets the guy she considers her soulmate.
Tommy Speck is a glasses-wearing Army brat, a devout Christian with musical ambitions that Hedwig encourages by writing what will prove to be Tommy’s best songs. She rechristens him “Tommy Gnosis,” his new last name being the Greek word for knowledge. His career ascendant, Tommy headlines large venues (including one that is supposedly next door), leaving the discarded Hedwig to a life of playing “seedy” clubs like the one in which we find ourselves.
Remarried to a former drag queen named Yitzhak (Kat Gold), the stoic frequent object of Hedwig’s verbal abuse, the not-so-glam rocker has just been caught up in a scandal involving Tommy. And so, reflecting on her life between killer musical numbers, Hedwig is melancholy, playful, cruel, funny and moving.
Staged by artistic director Skye Whitcomb, Outre’s “Hedwig” is magnetic.
Sporting a big-hair blond wig and the character’s exaggerated glitter makeup, Westrich exercises absolute power over a rapt audience, though a few seem nervous that Hedwig may stroll over to flirt or perch on a lap (the jitters are justified, by the way).
Westrich is, plain and simple, among South Florida’s finest musical-theater actors, and his moving, emotionally varied, unwavering command in “Hedwig” is magnificent. He also happens to possess a great rock voice and delivers powerhouse performances of the songs, including the haunting “Wicked Little Town.”
As Hedwig’s taciturn other half, Gold communicates with looks and grimaces, but wow, can she sing. Sometimes playing guitar, Yitzhak chimes in on many songs with backing vocals or duet passages, and Gold’s powerful voice blends perfectly with Westrich’s. When she claims the spotlight to sing “The Long Grift,” she owns that moment (and many more).
Musical director Caryl Fantel, going for a goth vibe, plays the keyboard (and does her own bits of backup singing) in the onstage band, which also features Rupert Ziawinski on bass, Greg Minnick on guitar and Evan Kline on percussion.
Set designer Daimien Matherson, costume designer Erin Charles, lighting designer Cliff Spulock and sound designer Todd Silver provide the intimacy, era touchstones and musical mix necessary for “Hedwig” to land as it should.
South Florida’s rich 2017-2018 theater season continues, but Outre’s “Hedwig” will make itself scarce way too soon, closing April 8. Westrich, Gold and the show easily claim a place among the season’s best experiences.