Don’t change one angry inch

Popular musicals return to the Blue Room and Chico Cabaret

DOn’t STOP THE MUSIC The four stars of Chico Cabaret’s<i> I Love You</i>…, (clockwise, from upper-left) Julia Dalton, Anthony Varicelli, Jeremy Schull and Kyle Silliman-Smith.

DOn’t STOP THE MUSIC The four stars of Chico Cabaret’s I Love You…, (clockwise, from upper-left) Julia Dalton, Anthony Varicelli, Jeremy Schull and Kyle Silliman-Smith.

Photo By Tom Angel

The talk of the town this week is that the Blue Room Theatre and the Chico Cabaret are simultaneously restaging their most successful productions, with the original casts. And it’s no surprise that both are again phenomenal and are selling out.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which many have called “the best rock show in Chico,” is back at the Blue Room, once again directed and designed by Jeremy Votava but with some new surprises, including a lighting design worthy of a Pink Floyd concert. Across town at the Chico Cabaret, Sue Ruttenburg is again directing I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, with the addition of Jevon Gegg-Mitchell providing his stellar virtuosity on piano, taking the four-part harmonies of the original cast to obscene heights of vocal perfection.

If you somehow haven’t heard about Hedwig, remedy this inexcusable ignorance immediately and climb the stairs above Collier Hardware downtown for the phenomenally popular off-Broadway (and movie) rock opera, narrated by Hedwig, that blond diva from Berlin (played by the incomparable Matt Hammons, up from L.A. just for the production).

Matt Hammons as Hedwig with backing band The Angry Inch in the Blue Room’s <i>Hedwig</i>…

Photo By Tom Angel

Hedwig tells the story of how a botched sex change operation and the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall led to the formation of a rock band, The Angry Inch, led by the charismatic Hedwig. Said band is again populated by Gina Henson Tropea, incognito as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband and back-up singer; musical director Maurice Spencer as Skszshp, on vocals and guitar; Clint Bear (Schlatko) on drums; Mark Woodruff (Jacek) on bass and Allison Rich (Krzyzhta) on piano and rhythm guitar. This band—indeed this whole show—is so tight I forgot I was in Chico. I am now attempting to trade in my Off-Broadway CD of the original cast recording and get a copy of the Blue Room version.

Hedwig’s life is no picnic, but the events leading up to the transition from the oppressed East German boy Hansel to a slinky, sultry blond diva named Hedwig who fronts a glam rock band are told with humor and self-deprecating charm, drawing us into the unlikely story of a search to find the soul mate that will make her whole again. In addition, Hedwig supplies kick-ass songs that rip apart our social assumptions about politics, gender, mythology, love and sex—cool enough to make me admit that I, too, am now a groupie. I am a “Hed head.”

Equally fine is the Cabaret’s I Love You. Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts’ off-Broadway hit, which has run longer than any other off-Broadway musical, is still as popular in Manhattan today as it was when it opened in 1996. The Chico Cabaret’s returning cast features Julia Dalton, Jeremy Schull, Kyle Silliman-Smith and Tony Varicelli, all breathing life into dozens of characters in a series of mostly musical vignettes exploring everything from dating, marriage and parenting to pick-ups at a funeral service. I laughed until I cried, and then I cried some more at scenes like the one with a 30-ish woman making a dating video after her husband left her for “a size 18 with a grandchild and a bad hip.”

Most of all, I applaud this cast for the countless character changes, which happen so quickly and smoothly that the show builds momentum with effortless ease. Dalton and Varicelli, for example, physically and vocally age 50 years in the blink of an eye, and their characters were portrayed with such tenderness and finesse that I was convinced that I was sitting in Brooklyn in a funeral parlor, catching a glimpse of the lives of two very real, very lonely people who had just happened upon one another.

If you have any doubts about the quality of the arts in this town, get your ass into a seat and see both these shows—especially if you saw them last year. You will laugh and cry and walk away with the feeling that life is rich, complex and astounding.