She takes a mile
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Glam-rock diva Hedwig has finally made her debut at the Lambda Players’ Sacramento theater, dragging along with her the Angry Inch band members and her now-famous cabaret-with-an-attitude act. And wouldn’t you know it? Her heartbreaking, song-stealing nemesis Tommy Gnosis is playing at nearby Arco Arena, close enough that poor Hedwig can hear the bastard’s cheering fans.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a campy cult classic originating as an Obie-winning one-man off-Broadway musical in 1998, with a subsequent movie and hordes of loyal, rabid Hed-heads. The fans know by heart the bitter story of Hedwig’s journey from his mother-crazy East Berlin childhood through his botched sex-change operation, his double-crossing young lover Tommy and his eventual re-emergence as the blond-wigged chanteuse.
The show is presented as a cabaret act—songs interspersed with stories—that’s stopping in Sacramento along a world-weary tour. There are local references and imaginary nods to the secondary, unseen character, Tommy, who isn’t really playing at Arco, but whose fantasized nearness remains a main sticking point in Hedwig’s heart.
It’s hard to explain the draw of the Hedwig character, played with such sadness, sass and sensitivity by local actor Kevin Leonard. (The character’s adoring fans greeted her on opening night with instant affection and affirmation, singing along with songs they’ve memorized from the movie and soundtrack.) She emerges in full drag makeup, hair, dress, fishnets and platform boots. Hedwig is angry, bitter and hurt to the core by life’s hardships—but she is also campy; wickedly funny; and a sweet, sad survivor on her own road to empowerment. With her lilting German accent, Hedwig tells the story of life behind the Iron Curtain, her affair with an American GI, the maiming of her manhood, her immigration to a Kansas trailer park and her never-ending search for love and acceptance.
Leonard embraces and embodies Hedwig, both daring and begging the audience to love her. Her band, the Angry Inch, played by five real musicians, provides her musical backup.
The show’s pacing is a bit off, and the over-amplified music drowns out many of the lyrics, but what remains with you when you leave is the heart of Hedwig. And, of course, her Angry Inch.