Hansel Schmidt, that “slip of a girlyboy from communist East Berlin”, has made a triumphant return to Portland. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell (book) and Stephen Trask’s (music and lyrics) drag show cum Broadway musical, opened Friday in the Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage at the Armory.
With Delphon “DJ” Curtis Jr. and Ithica Tell, reprising their roles as Hedwig and Yitzhak (Hedwig’s most recent husband) respectively, the story follows Hedwig (nee Hansel Schmidt) Robinson, a genderqueer East German singer in a rock and roll band, through musical and romantic escapades in Germany, a botched sex change, a botched marriage, a Kansas trailer park, and back to Germany again in search of, finally, herself.
Energizing and sassy, Hedwig evokes The Rocky Horror Show, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Storm Large’s Crazy Enough, and elements of Portuguese fado. The story is wildly melodramatic, with pounding rock music and Beyoncé-inspired costumes and wigs. It’s a pop-culture/cult happening that Portland-area Hedwig aficionados will need to see again. And again.
Delphon Curtis once again puts his indelible mark on this show and makes it his own! PCS associate producer Chip Miller directs the show. The script has been tweaked just enough to add some iconic Portland touches.
Hedwig the musical has nearly as interesting a history as that of Hedwig herself. The show developed from band gigs in a New York City drag-punk club called Squeezebox, and others, and draws loosely upon its creator Mitchell’s childhood as an Army brat. After four years, the show developed into a full-blown musical, and enjoyed it’s off-Broadway opening starring Mitchell as Hedwig in 1998. Hedwig was made into a movie in 2001, and revived as a Broadway musical in 2014.
It is in a derelict shopping mall, in front of a closed Chili’s restaurant (in what may or may not be Lloyd Center), that Hedwig shares her tale of woes and triumphs with a small, clubby audience. A hero’s journey like no other, Hedwig’s story embodies the universal themes of survival, self-worth, identity, love, and the quest to belong.
Mitchell grew up on Army bases in West Germany, Scotland, and other locations, and had a babysitter–a German divorcee–who moonlighted as a prostitute out of her trailer home in Junction City, Kansas. (Life is so much stranger than fiction!) Thus, the character Hedwig was born.
Hedwig’s Angry Inch band is led by Mar Del Castillo, guitar, with percussionist Justin Brisbane, Pierre Carbuccia Abbott, bass, and S. Jorden, guitar. The creative team includes Ash, music director; Britton Mauk, scenic designer; Dominique Fawn Hill, costume designer; Avi Sheehan, lighting designer; Em Gustason, sound designer; Rory Breshears, associate sound designer; Danny Lawrence, video designer; Jessica Miller, wig designer; Janine Vanderhoff, stage manager; Karl Hanover, dialect coach; and Dana Peterson, production assistant.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs through March 6 at Portland Center Stage. Full Covid protocols are in place, so attendees must be masked and show their vaccine cards and photo ID. Tickets are available here.