Original cast, band and crew bring back Blue Room’s biggest hit
For those who witnessed the Blue Room’s two wild, triumphant runs of the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch during the theater’s 2004 and 2005 seasons, it’s been a cruel decade of waiting. The funny, grungy love story—about an East German transsexual and the botched sex-change operation that transformed her into a tragic rock diva—was the talk of the town. The universally acclaimed show packed the theater for both runs and remains the top-grossing show in Blue Room history.
Then it was gone. Not wanting to diminish the success by having to replace any of the crucial parts of the special, stellar cast and crew—which included director Jeremy Votava, dynamic musician/actor Matt Hammons (who was born to play the title role), and the kick-ass band powered by the huge voice of Gina Tropea and eccentric bandleader Maurice Spencer—they decided to not bring it back in the following seasons.
But somehow the planets have realigned, and this week, nearly all the players are returning to the scene of their triumph for what is virtually guaranteed to be another sold-out run. In anticipation, we asked Votava to reflect on the local-theater phenomenon he helped create.
CN&R: Why bring Hedwig back now?
Jeremy Votava: I can’t tell you how many times [we] heard, “When are you guys going to do Hedwig again?” It was like, you know, we did it. We did it twice.
So, 10 years later, members of the Blue Room just contacted me, saying, “Hey, there’s been some talk about it.” The board knew it had been 10 years. I was like, “Wow, it might take some doing, but let me put the feelers out.” And Matt was the first one I asked, of course. And then knowing Spencer was in Portland, he was number two. And then we rounded up the usual suspects and got them all back.
Which was thrilling, because 10 years is a long time. A lot of us have kids and families and some of us have more jobs now, more commitments. But everybody was very excited to come back, not only just to do this show—because it is such a fun spectacle of show—but the mini-reunion of getting to work together.
At what point did you realize you were on to something with Hedwig?
Honestly, when I first heard the CD and read the script, I knew it was going to be special. [And] those first couple band rehearsals when I heard the music and I knew it was there. And I knew Matt could sing his ass off—Gina as well. They complement each other vocally so much.
It’s just a great fit. And we’re all buddies. Actually, I would say, and Matt would agree, that these are all some of our best friends over the years. They’re just good people who we’re excited to have back and work with.
What is it about Hedwig that catches people’s imagination?
The general public, when you tell them the idea of it, they kind of snicker. You know, they chuckle. And really, when it comes down to it, it’s about love. It’s a love story, but it’s also a sad story, and it’s a rock show. It’s all these things—a musical-comedy-drama—but the one thing that really hits home for me is the story of “The Origin of Love,” one of the songs. It’s the concept that humans were once round, two-faced, four-armed, four-legged beings, and then God came down and split them in two, leaving them separated people with a lifelong yearning for their other half. So, it’s like your soul mate. You’re searching your whole life to reconnect with your other half that you were split from. That’s what Hedwig’s deal is. She’s been searching her whole life.
How did it feel to be in the middle of a play packed with enthusiastic audiences every night?
With Hedwig, I wanted to be there every night. And I was there every night. It was a different feeling for me because people loved it so much.
I was the guy, when they say, “Lift up your hands” at the end, I was waving my arms in the air like I just didn’t care, and man, I was almost in tears for the curtain call, or the encore. I was blown away every night, and I was excited to watch it every night. It’s a rock show that never gets old to me, and the performances are so great by every single person up there. I’m just really looking forward to this show, making it bigger and better—a rock and roll spectacle, you know?