SevenDays - Casey Rea 11/17/2004
You've seen her snarl from local poster boards a troubled mix of outrage and coy indignation. Hedwig's back, and she's still pissed.
Returning to 135 Pearl for a 10-show run, Robert Toms' Shoebox Theater has honed the rock opera Hedwig & the Angry Inch to near perfection. The musical tells the tale of an internationally ignored song stylist from the former Eastern Bloc whose botched sex-change operation and comic-tragic romantic history fuel a quest for self-understanding. Peppered with white-hot anger and tender vulnerability, the cult musical offers moments of passion and heartbreak that are impossible to ignore. Toms' commanding portrayal of the troubled diva is astounding; he struts across the stage with flamboyant melancholy imagine tortured chanteuse Nico at a Tupperware party. Hedwig's hilarious and touching monologues are interspersed with live rock numbers that sound like Transformer-era Lou Reed as re-imagined by Meatloaf backing band The Angry Inch could eat most club acts for breakfast. Composed of guitarist/musical director Antara, drummer Chris Johnston of local rockers Mailbox, keyboardist Adam Wood and bassist extraordinaire Chris Cheney, The Angry Inch are brazen and alert. Following every detail of Toms' highly nuanced performance with ballsy precision, they bash through New York Dolls-style rockers and haunting ballads with ease.
There wasn't much of an audience present at the show last Thursday, but when Hedwig belted the song Wig in a Box, it hardly mattered. I put on my makeup, turn on the eight track / I'm pulling the wig down from the shelf, Toms sang, never missing a note, or a pout. He didn't seem the slightest bit fazed by the empty seats, delivering the goods as though he were singing for thousands. Nathan Jarvis' turn as Hedwig's long-suffering romantic lapdog, Yitzhak, was convincing as well; he was very effective in his dual roles as backup singer and supporting actor.
When Hedwig brushed my freshly shorn head while rushing the aisles, I got goosebumps. As far as participatory experiences go, this combination rock concert and theater piece is unbeatable especially when delivered with such contagious enthusiasm.
If you missed the show last summer, don't make that mistake again. Word on the street is that these performances are far stronger than in the previous run. There are still four more chances to catch the show at 135 Pearl; it runs Nov. 18-21 before heading north to Montréal for a one-week engagement at the Theatre National.