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Hedwig and the Angry Inch is back by popular demand

By Brian Carroll on October 2, 2014

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90 minutes (no intermission) | Rock Musical | Mature content including explicit sexual and coarse language.

“Hedwig’s back by popular demand! 4 nights only. Oct 1st – 4th.” Say the posters, handbills and programs.

Well, folks, ALL four nights are SOLD OUT.

BUT, you haven’t missed your chance. Vanity Productions and The Gladstone Theatre have added one more show on Saturday night at 10:00PM. As of opening night, the late show is already 1/3 sold and tickets are going fast.

So how has a gender-bending, rock musical about the victim of a botched sex change operation become such a hit in conservative Ottawa, the town that fun forgot? How has it pulled in audiences that make other local theatre companies drool?

Last May’s performances drew plenty of critical acclaim, but many productions get similar praise, while drawing only 1/3 full theatres.

Judging by the October 1st opening night audience, this production of Hedwig drew a broad spectrum: young, old, gay, straight, seasoned theatre-goers, theatre novices, rock fans, classical fans, repeat patrons and Hedwig newbies.

With such a broad appeal, perhaps a better question is: why did it take 16 years before an Ottawa theatre company took a chance on a live performance of Hedwig. (The film version has played the Bytowne.) Kudos to Vanity Productions for having faith in this project.

They deserve their packed houses.

First impressions matter. From the moment when Hedwig’s husband Yitzhak (Rebecca Noelle of The Peptides) introduces Hedwig (Tim Oberholzer), you know this ain’t The Sound of Music. Hedwig sports a short denim skirt, high white Doc Martens, a red top constraining a black push-up bra, and a red, white, blue cloak that reveals the message: “Yankee come home with me.”

Then the band (Stewart Matthews, Steven Lafond, Marc Connor and Scott Irving) strikes up the opening tune with the double entendre title “Tear Me Down”. Oberholzer and Noelle join in on vocals to win over the audience.

A hootin’, hollerin’, rockin’ good night follows.

Last May I thought this production of Hedwig was amazingly strong. But there have actually been some improvements. Some reviewers found the lyrics unclear. Sound man Jason Sonier has brought down the volume on the raunchier numbers to aid the clarity, without sacrificing energy on stage. And he’s balanced the levels between Oberholzer and Noelle better to brighten their harmonies. Mentioning other improvements would yield spoilers.

But this isn’t just a good rock ’n’ roll show. There’s also an intriguing story that has a wider aim. As Atticus Finch said: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

With campy double entendre groaners (“I like a warm hand on my entrance.”), Hedwig’s insecure revelations, and tense dynamics between Hedwig, Yitzhak, and the band, the show draws the audience into the skin of this social outsider with great pipes and a unique story.

In the end, the audience rewards Hedwig and his fellow performers with highly enthusiastic cheers and applause. As one sweet young thing said after the show: “I had NO idea what it was about before coming.” Judging from the big smile on her face, she was mightily pleased with the result.

Many of the audience members on opening night were people I’ve never seen at live theatre. Bringing new people to theatre in Ottawa is like herding cats: put something in front of them that they want.

Hedwig is not a show for everyone. It’s not a safe bet. The content is definitely for mature audiences and homophobes will find the explicit sexual content offensive. But word of mouth and critical acclaim have filled The Gladstone with veteran and neophyte theatre goers alike.

Theatre companies in Ottawa underestimated the potential that Hedwig has to reach new audiences.

What other plays have local companies underestimated?

Hedwig and the Angry Inch by Vanity Project Productions is playing at the Gladstone Theatre. Thursday and Friday October 2nd and 3rd at 7:30PM, and Saturday October 4th at 7:30PM and 10:00PM. Adult tickets are $25 (including HST). Student/Artist/Senior tickets are $20.

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