“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will make its way to Spectrum Theater this month as Actors’ Theatre’s season opener. The rock musical rose from humble beginnings. Originally, it was an off-Broadway production debuting at the Jane Street Theatre in 1998 with little hope of ever seeing the lights of Broadway. The musical did eventually make it to Broadway more than a decade later — in 2014 at the Belasco Theatre — with Neil Patrick Harris playing the lead. The production won several Tony awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Lead Actor in a Musical (Harris) and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Lena Hall).
Kyle Los, executive director at Actors’ Theatre, noted “Hedwig’s” Broadway turn after more than 15 years is a testament to the show being “ahead of its time.”
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” follows Hedwig Robinson, a genderqueer East German singer of a fictional rock band as they follow the tour of Tommy Gnosis, unraveling the pair’s complicated past and Hedwig’s search for identity along the way.
When it was first written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, many of the words used to discuss gender identity and fluidity today didn’t exist.
Los said when considering whether to include “Hedwig” in the 2019-20 season, he dove into academic articles and reflections to see how the 20-year-old show fit into the current time period.
“For me, looking at it now, what is it saying about so many different things? Hedwig’s not a drag queen, Hedwig isn’t technically trans, they were thrown into this situation.” Los said. “I needed to go back and read this with my lens right now and make sure I’m not going to do a disservice to any of the communities it attempted to serve when it was first written.”
Los said revisiting Hedwig renewed his love for the musical and made him certain the show still is relevant today. “The purpose of the show has not changed,” he said.
When Los spoke with Grand Rapids Magazine this summer, auditions had yet to be held, and Los said he was excited to see what each actor auditioning brings to the part. Hedwig has been played by a host of people from Mitchell himself to Harris, Ally Sheedy and Taye Diggs.
“The cool thing that has happened with Hedwig is we’ve seen different gender identities and racial identities playing this character,” Los said. “The point of Hedwig is not that the person is trans or is this specific thing, the purpose of Hedwig is to say, what do you do when these standard titles do not exist — gender or sexual identity categories — throw them away. Hedwig just says, ‘I am person, now what?’ How do we explore humanity one to another?”
While the “Hedwig” cast consists of two actors and a band, the show brings some creative challenges. “It’s artistically challenging. With the interaction with the audience, you need a way for them to connect physically and visually,” Los said. He said he looks forward to working with the team to solve those challenges.
While “Hedwig” will ensure Actors’ Theatre kicks off its season with a burst of energy, Los said he also is excited about the rest of the season, which includes the Michigan premieres of “Gloria,” “Mary Jane” and “The Humans” and the national premiere of “Paradise Lost” as well as a new work #thewaterproject that is in development.
“This year, a theme kind of emerged: World in the Balance,” Los said, explaining that people are uber informed today and trying to figure out “what are we going to do with the global experience? With politics, individual experience, the way we are taking care of the ecology of the world,” while also often feeling stuck.
“We have all these lives trapped and not able to move; all these stories explore lives stuck, not knowing how to move forward.”