A must see at Artswest
The Tony Award winning rock musical , Hedwig and the Angry Inch, opened with an explosion of joy, mirth and sheer entertainment this weekend at Artswest.
Originally an off-Broadway production in 1998, then a Broadway sensation in 2014, with lyrics by Stephen Trask and a book by John Cameron Mitchell it is also a film. With a main character who is “genderqueer,” it nevertheless has universal appeal
Artswest’s second production of Hedwig, it cast the same actor as the lead. To say that the star, Nicholas Japaul Bernard, was what people in show biz call a “Triple Threat” that is to say someone with exceptional dancing, singing, and acting ability, is an understatement. Bernard also possesses superb acrobatic ability, exceptional improv ability, and the most impeccable comic and dramatic timing I have ever seen. As well as sheer charisma.
Before I even walked into the auditorium, I started enjoying myself as soon as the usher gave me a program, since they were dressed in a flamboyant silver sequined dress with matching silver sequined boots. Once inside the stage I began to laugh, as I saw various flamboyant wigs and flashy platform shoes, while listening nostalgically to Diana Ross and other Motown tunes.
After a few minutes of Cabaret style banter with the audience including some very topical local jokes, Bernard as Hedwig or Hansel recounts through singing, dancing and banter the tragic and comic vicissitudes of their life story. Starting out as Hansel, we learn than that their father was a post-World War II American GI stationed in Berlin before it was divided, while the mother was German. Like many GI’s the father abandoned mother and child.
Once the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, to prevent East Germans from fleeing to the West, Hansel and his mother were on the wrong side, in East Berlin, so his legitimate avenues for escaping to the West were severely curtailed.
Through listening to AFN, American Forces Radio-the radio station for the American military in West Germany and West Berlin, Hansel/Hedwige develops a passion for American rock music and learned to sing.
To obtain an exit visa in the days when gay marriage was not recognized (1988) he agrees to marry an American G.I. But there is a major glitch-the authorities required a physical exam prior to marriage. To pass the exam, he undergoes a botched surgery and it all ends in tears and worse. However, he manages to survive becoming a singer in a rock band, with more than a few career and relationship betrayals and come backs.
Obviously Hedwig’s story is not that of your average heterosexual person who never leaves his hometown and has a “normal” job working for the same company his whole life, but like all human beings, in the words of the director, Eddie de Hais, “they were just real human beings trying to live their lives.”
Hedwig may not have had external experiences that the average person does, but the play brought out all the universal human emotions we all have: wanting to be loved for ourselves, wanting freedom of expression, wanting choice, while they struggle with betrayal and insecurity.
Technically, a lot of credit goes to the costumer Taya Pyne, who created some outlandish, bizarre and totally appropriate costumes of the highly amusing variety, which kept making me laugh with delight. Music by Greg Fields and the musical direction by Aaron M.D. Norman was outstanding. The Lighting effects by designer Chi-Hung Shaeo and assistant Anna Shih were just plain outtasight. (as we used to say in the 1960’s)
The one flaw in the production was that at times the music drowned out the singing, and for me, who has never been a fan of loud rock music, I found the sheer volume of the music in such a small space off-putting; I like to hear the words, especially sung by such a super expressive performer. Also during part of the performance there was a multi-media show, which gave me sensory over-load.
Even on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it was almost sold out, so I would get your tickets immediately, one does not see a performance like this very often anywhere, and it is well worth seeing. Just as an added perk, there is a great art exhibit Dangerous Beauty, in the lobby.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Artswest 4711 California Ave SW. Seattle, 98116 (West Seattle. Wed-Sat 7:30 pm. Sun. 3 pm. Til July 23. Lots of FREE street parking. On Sundays, the West Seattle Farmer’s Market takes place one block from the theatre on California Ave. There are lots of great restaurants and antique shops near the theatre.
Content Warning: This production contains strong, adult, and sexually explicit language as well as the portrayal of alcohol and drug use on stage. And very loud music
Art Exhibit, Dangerous Beauty review: https://www.dramainthehood.net/2023/07/art-in-the-lobby-digital-art-by-emily-juarez-at-artswest/