James Ryan Gobuty
I have to admit, I felt like a kid walking into a candy store when I stepped into The Lower Ossington Theatre’s cabaret space for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I had spent the entire day psyching myself out for the evening, listening to the soundtrack on a loop; suffice it so say that I am a fan of this particular show. Expectations were high theatre readers and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Lower Ossington Theatre endeavours no small feat by bringing John Cameron Mitchell’s award winning off-Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch to the Toronto stage. This controversial show exploring the life and career of an east-German transgendered rock-and-roll icon is as much reviled as it is beloved, and takes a courageous and talented team to pull it off. Lower Ossington Theatre’s Cabaret is the perfect setting for Hedwig, somewhat cramped with seats and tables peppered throughout the space, embodying the always fringe nature of a character such as Hedwig Schmidt (Nathaniel Bacon). I was asked if I “was brave enough to sit up front” by the LOT staff and of course replied, “hell yeah”. The environment had set me up for a wild night of in-your-face fun.
The show begins with the band filing on stage in the dark, anticipating the star of the show, and then in she comes with a flash and a bang, performing “Tear Me Down” – the show’s opening number. The show proceeds very much in this manner, with Hedwig explicating her transition from frail virginal Hansel to the “punk-rock star of stage and screen” that is Hedwig, followed by a musical number to accompany the monologue. The Trans-diva is joined on stage by her “husband” Yitzach (Kit Boulter), a role traditionally played by a female, as much for the harmonics in the musical number as for the gender-bending conceit of the play.
Nathaniel Bacon and Kit Boulter are both incredible performers, marvellously traversing the sad yet humorous tight rope that this show requires. Though the harmonies did not always synch up perfectly, the incredible vocal talents of these two performers cannot be denied. The pair are the perfect duo for Hedwig and it’s no wonder the show’s run has been extended.
The design aspects of the show are also particularly excellent, considering the small size of the stage. Director Alan Kinsella manages to pack a lot of bells and whistles into the production without making it overwhelming. The lighting effects melded perfectly with the smoke machine, giving the show the perfect rock and roll feel, and setting up some fabulous Hedwig silhouettes. The costumes changes were also very cleverly executed, if the outfits may not have been exactly to this reviewer’s taste. This show really delivers on every level.
Whether you worship at the altar of Hedwig like I do, or have never seen it before, I implore you to go see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Lower Ossington Theatre; it is a phenomenon not to be missed.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre Cabaret (100a Ossington Ave) until May 10. Tickets are $49 a seat or $219 for a table for four. Tickets can be purchased online at lowerossingtontheatre.com, by telephone at 416-915-6747, or in person at the box office at the theatre.