Friday, June 2, 2023

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" at Lush Lounge and Theater

I love Hedwig. I've seen her (and the Angry Inch) a half a dozen times (including the 2001 movie), and never cease to be inspired by this fierce and unapologetic misfit who encourages us all to be just who we are. I caught one of the final performances of Lush Lounge and Theater's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, their second foray into the world of musical theater (I believe they did La Cage Aux Folles recently). For a bar best known for its drag shows (and being the home of Musical Mondays), both of these shows are right in their wheelhouse. And now seems like the perfect time to celebrate with Hedwig, with this irrational fear of drag culture among some politicians. To quote the director Maxwell Freudenthal, "We believe that all people are worthy of love, drag is not dangerous, and a queer person's right to exist exactly as they are is not subject to debate." You can see Hedwig for two more nights only, or check out Lush's event page to see what else is happening.

the three Hedwigs: Malcolm Lee, Luna Muse, and Splash
(photo by Lou R.R. Zurn)
This is a Hedwig like I've never seen before. First, because it's an all queer cast, and second because there are three different actors playing Hedwig, and some characters usually only spoken about in Hedwig's storytelling are seen. It's great to see this iconic queer story told by queer artists, and the larger cast allows us to see more sides of Hedwig and her story. Luna Muse (aka Cam Pederson) begins Hedwig's 90-minute concert, and continues to play the present-day Hedwig throughout the show. When Hedwig tells stories from her past, other actors portray those earlier Hedwigs, allowing the current Hedwig to watch her (often unhappy) past play out, and react to it. Malcolm Lee is the innocent young Haensel-turned-Hedwig in East Berlin, and Splash is the divorced woman living in a trailer park who mentors and falls in love with a young rock star named Tommy. 

Hedwig and Yitzhak (Luna Muse and Lux, photo by Lou R.R. Zurn)
Each actor shows us a different side to Hedwig (connected by the platinum blond wig). Luna Muse is the jaded Hedwig, with the iconic wig and make-up. Malcolm Lee brings an innocence and a fierceness to young Hedwig, and Splash gives her a sweet and tender side. M.C.Rawr (aka Tyler Lanam) plays both Hedwig's mother and Tommy, fleshing out those characters and making the stories feel more real. Last but not least we have Yitzhak, with Lux Mortenson showing off their gorgeous vocals as Hedwig's long-suffering husband, who finally gets a chance to shine in the spotlight.

Tommy gets music lessons from Hedwig
(M.C.Rawr and Splash, photo by Lou R.R. Zurn)
The show is simply staged, but it's a rock concert so that's fitting. As usual there are lots of fun local references thrown in, as if Hedwig really is performing at Lush while her ex is performing "across the river" at US Bank Stadium (but quaintly still heard outside the door). All of the Hedwigs move freely throughout the space and amongst the audience, making this an immersive concert experience. Lush really is a great venue for this show, it's easy to believe this is the kind of place that Hedwig would play.

Jade Bjelland-Hagberg leads the four-piece onstage band, aka The Angry Inch. The music sounds great; each of the performers brings their own unique style to this familiar punk rock score, and we even get three Hedwigs singing in harmony. A hot pink day bed is the only set piece needed, and Samantha Rei's flashy costumes fit the bill. 

Seeing Hedwig and the Angry Inch is always a transformative experience, following Hedwig's epic journey to find and be her true self, and allow those around her to do the same. This version gives us three Hedwigs for the price of one, and an authentic perspective on the story.