A few months ago a friend of mine, Mike Maas, heard that a theatre production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was in the planning stages here in Juneau. Having been a big fan of the movie, he immediately made some phone calls to try to find out how he could, in some way, become a part of the show. Just when it seemed like he’d dead ended in unreturned phone calls, someone from Perseverance Theatre called – completely independent of his own inquiries, mind you – to offer him the off-stage role of Music Director and the on-stage role of Skszp. Anyone within shouting distance last November knows how thrilled he was.
Starting in December, Mike met with the cast and crew of Hedwig for many, many hours of rehearsals. Most days it seemed he would leave work and rehearse until almost midnight. On at least one occasion he worked on the play nine days straight without a day off to recuperate. We rescheduled our social gatherings around his new schedule and listened to his complaints about the rigors of 8-hour rehearsals contrasted with his excitement about how well things were coming together.
Much to my disappointment, Mike devoted so much of his free time to practicing that a video project we had planned to shoot was eventually shelved. I had no real desire to see the original Hedwig movie and, besides supporting a friend in his creative endeavors, had no real inclination to spend $44 so Oksana and I could see this show, either. I couldn’t understand why he was so overjoyed to be in a fringe show about a German transvestite with a failed sex-change operation, but we went last Saturday anyway.
You know what? I get it now. Hedwig and the Angry Inch fucking rocked! (Before the show, Mike asked us, “Are you ready to RAWK?!” It’s never “rock” with Mike, it’s always a throw-the-goat, Billy Idol sneer, “RAWK!!”)
Oksana and I went to the show with Joe and Amelia (Mike’s fiancée) at the Hanger Ballroom and the show completely and utterly exceeded all my expectations. The play is cleverly staged to be like one of dramatically failed dinner shows from the movie and, had we been served food, would have completed the illusion perfectly. The show began with the band members entering in costume, meandering through our assembled tables, and reading their instruments on stage. Mike was there in all his Skszp glory — goth makeup, a greasy red wig, and full-pleather garb. His costume was so good that even his fiancée didn’t recognize him the first time she saw the show and it was obvious that it helped Mike to slip into his role.
The show kicked off when Rory Merritt Stitt entered, in the spotlight, in the Hedwig getup. As good as Mike’s costume was, Hedwig’s blew us away. Swept back wig, over-the-top tranny makeup, and a massively gaudy cape transformed him totally. When he took the stage and affected a German accent, I was amazed. Aside from the first scene, I hadn’t even seen the movie, but I could tell: Rory was Hedwig.
For the next hours and a half I was enthralled – not so much by the story, but by the production values of the show. About a dozen musical performances by the band broke up the extended monologues by Hedwig. To my untrained ear, they were spot-on and oh-so-tight. When they played “Angry Inch” in the small confines of the Ballroom, RAWK crashed over the audience like a thunderstorm. As I watched Mike behind his keyboard, I realized why he felt so lucky to be in the play. There were only 60 or so people in the room, but in that moment, he could just as easily been jammin’ on a stage in front of thousands. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to play with a band in front of an audience, but in that moment I envied them all.
The music was great, but there were other surprises in the show, too. They used images and animations projected above the stage to compliment and accentuate the story line. They cleverly created a whole concert at neighboring Centennial Hall with audio alone. And though I never would have thought I’d pick up on the lighting in a play, I couldn’t help but notice the little touches: the spotlight playing off Hedwig’s reflective cape, tomatoes exploding in the strobe light, and hazy silhouettes back lit in a smoky blast from the fog machine. All those hours of preparation paid off. Besides a couple problems with the microphone (that could well have been part of the show) I didn’t notice a single forgotten line, an out-of-place note, nor any other miscue.
After the show, the four of us waited in the hallway until Mike had divested himself of makeup and costume. When he finally emerged, physically tired but emotionally high, we showered him with praise. Despite not being able to talk about the play on the same level (“Did you notice the harmonies? – You’re asking the wrong guy.” “What about when we played song X? — Sorry, don’t know them by name.”) we spent the next 45 minutes telling him how awesome it was.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch has just started its run in Juneau and will be playing at the Hanger Ballroom until mid-February when they take the show to Anchorage. If you’re ready to be RAWKed, get some information about tickets and show times (and possibly even “pay as you can” nights) on Mike’s blog. Compared to a movie ticket, $22 is a hefty price tag, but I guarantee you it’s worth it.
Hedwig is a scream ‘til your throat’s hoarse, clap ‘til your hands hurt kind of show. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.