By Alec Clayton
The rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with text by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, started as a performance in drag clubs and became an international phenomenon. It’s now playing at the State Theater of Olympia’s Harlequin Productions, starring Adam Rennie as Hedwig and Mandy Rose Nichøls [sic] as Hedwig’s husband and assistant, Yitzhak.
Winner of four Tony Awards, Hedwig was directed for Harlequin by Aaron Lamb. Its title character is a gender-bending glam rocker from East Germany, who was left with an “angry inch” after a botched sex change operation. (In a Rolling Stone interview, Mitchell referred to it as an “involuntary sex change.”) Hedwig came to America after the Berlin Wall was torn down, and is now — despite stupendous talent — living in an old travel trailer in Kansas and performing in second-rate clubs, being too outrageous for mainstream performance venues.
Olympia audiences are treated to a lead stage performance in which, between songs, Hedwig tells the audience her life story including those of her operation, her loves and her envy and disappointment in a young singer she mentored. The latter character became a megastar and left Hedwig behind, never acknowledging her. Hedwig sprinkles these stories with improvised engagement with the audience. Her humor is often biting but always hilarious; she’s consumed with anger, but sweet and sensitive beneath that. Rennie’s physical movements are athletic and sexy, with powerful vocals ranging from sweet and mellow to screaming and guttural.
Nichøls stays mostly in the background, performing as a kind of vaudeville-style straight man — equally hilarious, but in a toned-down manner. When Yitzhak emerges from that supportive role to take center stage in song, Nichøls burns the house down.
Note: Hedwig is a transgender woman and Yitzhak is a man, but both actors playing those parts are listed in the program as using gender-neutral pronouns.
Jeannie Beirne’s set design is gritty and gorgeous, with collage-like art all over the stage. On a high balcony sits a vintage travel trailer, naked mannequins and mannequin body parts in the sky, all enhanced with projections by John Serembe and dramatic lighting by Olivia Burlingame. (Note: That lighting includes the flashing of strobes.)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is loud, raucous and definitely not for children. Each weekend will feature a different local band to open the performance with a 45-minute set. Sugar and the Spitfires performed opening weekend, followed by Denim + the Deep Pockets June 30 to July 3, Alex Blum & the Roadside Quartet July 7-10, Golden Ruins Jul 21-24 and Smelly Cat July 27-29.
Seattle artist Saundra Fleming’s work will be on display in the State Theater lobby throughout the Hedwig run. There’ll be an artist’s reception in the lobby June 30 at 5:30 p.m. All are welcome, and light refreshments will be served.
COVID protocols no longer require proof of vaccination for entry, but masking is still required within the theater space.
Photo credits: Harlequin Productions.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Note: Hedwig will reopen Thursday, July 21 after a brief, COVID-mandated closure.
7 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays,
1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 6
Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
$25-$42, with half-price rush tickets at the door 30 minutes before curtain;
pay-what-you-choose performances July 24 and Aug. 4