Aside from the wig, miniskirt and cape made from covers of Time magazine, the titular character of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is all of us.
Admittedly, Hedwig is one-of-a-kind: a washed-up, genderqueer rockstar born on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall and the victim of a botched sex change. The forces that created her—love, rejection and disappointment—should be familiar to anyone fortunate enough to see the musical during its run at Boise Contemporary Theater that opened Oct. 8.
Hedwig's given name is Hansel Schmidt, a boy searching for his other half and convinced his true love is waiting for him on the western side of the Berlin Wall. A disastrous sex reassignment to get him over the wall and a failed marriage later, Hansel—now Hedwig (Adam Enright)—enters into a traumatic relationship with a young boy.
The soulful, wry, rocking tale, directed by Tracy Sunderland, is relayed to the audience through song and monologue by Hedwig and her band, and the BCT stage has been retooled by designer Sue Latta as a bandstand. The rock score and Hedwig's oversized personality propel the play's first half. By the second half, the audience is hooked and ready for Hedwig to reveal herself as someone whose extravagant persona belies the familiarity of her struggle.
Enright captured Hedwig's many agonies and ecstasies, and Tess Worstell's Yitzhak (Hedwig's unappreciated lover) is the perfect counterpoint to the main character's antics. The tunes are courtesy of Hedwig's band, The Angry Inch: Thomas Paul on guitar, Melanie Radford on bass, Riley Anne Johnson on keyboard and percussionist Louis McFarland.
Hedwig premiered off-Broadway in 1998, won a 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival and has aged well. Its most enduring quality may be how it allows its main character to tell her story on her own terms—a stroke that stresses Hedwig's humanity and challenges our narrative expectations.