The Fabulous Hedwig Has Arrived In Oklahoma City

On stage, Hedwig Robinson (née Schmidt) lies in a pool of light and utters:

“It is clear that I must find my other half…but is it a he or a she? Does my other half have what I don’t? Did he get the looks? The luck? The love? Were we really separated forcibly or did he just run off with the good stuff? Or did I? Will this person embarrass me? What about sex? Is that how we put ourselves back together again? Or can two people actually become one again?”

This simple passage resonates within us, and speaks to our deepest insecurities and fears about loving and being loved. What is the origin of love? How does one find completion in this lonely world? This production aims to speak to us on an individual level regarding universal themes of power, gender, identity, passion, creativity, art and love. I am a longtime dedicated “Hedhead”, and my connection to this story was immediate and profound. Hedwig and the Angry Inch pierced my carefully cultivated cynicism, and answered my most burning question: What does it take to be whole?

In the early-late 90’s, this rock musical made waves off Broadway with its bold song styling and heartbreaking tale of a transgendered East Germany performer named Hedwig (formerly Hansel). Early in the story, Hansel meets an American soldier, willing to marry him and take him to America – on the other side of the Wall – and out of Communist East Berlin. Only, in order to do so, Hansel must leave a piece of himself behind. Literally. Post botched sex change operation, Hansel (now Hedwig) discovers that she has nothing left to work with but an “angry inch.” A little over a year later, she sits in a trailer in Junction City, KS, abandoned by her husband and in the throes of immense despair as she watches the Berlin Wall come down. It is a wig in a box, a leftover anniversary present that she had never opened, that becomes Hedwig’s temporary salvation.

After meeting and falling in love with Tommy Speck, the teenaged son of a military general, Hedwig finds herself in the role of music mentor to young Speck. Their creative collaboration transforms them both: songs “explode” out of them, and their romantic entanglement deepens. Hedwig christens Tommy with the stage name Gnosis – the Greek word for knowledge. Later, Tommy leaves Hedwig, stealing their musical collaborations. Tommy Gnosis quickly becomes rock legend, on the back of Hedwig’s hard work.

Backed by her band, The Angry Inch, a betrayed Hedwig tours on the heels on of her former writing partner and lover. It is here that we, the audience, enter the story. The setting is at The Boom, fictionally positioned next to, where Gnosis is said to be performing in concert. The function of this directorial decision is meant to engage the audience on their home territory – to put them in the story while acknowledging the scene at hand. This is a production made to be performed in a bar or club setting, and the self-referential nod at Oklahoma’s conservative culture lets the audience feel like they’re in on the joke.


Photos courtesy of the talented Rex Barrett at Glass Eye Studios

Matthew Alvin Brown, best known to locals for his roles as Brad in Rocky Horror Picture Show, Zachary Blasto in the feature film Rainbow Around the Sun, and frontman for the band The Fellowship Students, takes the stage as both Hedwig and Gnosis. Yitzhak is played by Renee Anderson, best known for her touring roles in The Music Man and Oklahoma!. The Angry Inch is comprised of members of popular local bands: Richard York formerly of The American Boyfriends, Zach Zeller of The Non, Jeff Cooper of Locus Avenue, and Javier Gonzales of Starlight Mints. They work cohesively together and never let you forget for one second that you are at a rock show. The music supplements Hedwig’s narrative, and carries the audience on a tide of anger, anguish, love, humor and the universal pain of human existence. Matt Brown’s and Renee Anderson’s vocal performances are unparalleled. Their voices will pierce you to your core and thaw your frozen heart.

Matt Brown is a gregarious and engaging Hedwig who turns in a stunning lead performance. Brown is more than equal to the task of playing Hedwig with all of the ego, razor-sharp sense of humor and vocal demands expected of the role. Brown’s unique talent is in reminding us that Hedwig’s ego is a veneer, in place only to protect the incredibly vulnerable and insecure Hedwig from further pain. Hedwig handles her story with deft humor and wit, and delicious bitterness. However, underneath this exterior is someone so raw and so lost that the despair Hedwig feels is palpable. Audience member Amber Steele said, “You get to see this performer breaking down in front of you.” As Hedwig spirals, the tension between her and her husband, Yitzhak, intensifies. Hedwig’s control and jealousy of Yitzhak becomes shriller and more painful as the production goes on. Then, there is a moment so profound between them that you can feel the audience hold their breath as it occurs. It is one of the best moments of the entire show, and I, too, wait with baited breath, even when I know it’s coming.


Photos courtesy of the talented Rex Barrett at Glass Eye Studios

We polled the audience for favorite musical numbers, and nearly everyone lists The Origin of Love as their favorite, with Midnight Radio and Wig in a Box vying for close second. The Origin of Love may be one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It chronicles Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium and tells the tale of mankind’s transformation. Long ago, there were three sexes: two men glued up back to back, two girls rolled up in one, and a man and woman joined like a fork shoved on a spoon. Zeus separated us down the middle due to our hubris, and it is this idea that plays into the theme of the journey to find one’s “other half.” Ever since our separation from the other half, we have been searching for them; searching for the one who will love us, and make us whole.

The most powerful moment of the play comes at the finale. This astonishing ending defies Disney’s version of romance and the notion that you need someone to rescue you from yourself in order to be whole. With a conclusion so powerful, it’s no wonder that audiences return to see the performance time and time again. The message will heal you.


Photos courtesy of the talented Rex Barrett at Glass Eye Studios

Though this originated as a stage performance, most people are only familiar with the film adaptation that came out in 2001. However, it is my contention that Hedwig must be experienced live. The colorful hair, makeup and costuming of the characters, set against a neon graffiti’d backdrop, creates a visually stunning show. Yet, this only speaks to surface appearances. At different times, Hedwig, Tommy Gnosis and Yitzhak come down off the stage and interact with the audience. Thrust in the middle of the dramatic scene unfolding, you are emotionally connected to the characters. I’m not one for crying in public, or really, anywhere else for that matter, but I get so choked up during the finale that I let the tears stream down my face. I don’t care who sees me. That’s how powerful this show is.

Now that I have thoroughly embarrassed myself by admitting this in an online publication, I’ll get on to the other details of the event. The Boom is an excellent venue for this show. It is a well-run and well-organized establishment that provides a comfortable spot to be entertained, while maintaining the intimacy of a small bar venue. The tables in the main seating area all give a clear view of the stage. If you have the privilege of sitting at the tables closest to the stage, you may even get the “Carwash” from Hedwig.

Eric Webb produces the show, and is passionate about the production on a personal level. In fact, everyone involved sees the show for more than just its entertainment value. Kory Kight, stage manager, is the most dedicated Hedwig fan I’ve ever met. Since it first debuted on stage in 1998, he flew out to New York City and saw it live over and over again. He has seen dozens of incarnations of Hedwig and promises me that Matt Brown is the best. He doesn’t need to say anything more to convince me. Kory knows what he’s talking about. I thought I was the biggest Hedwig fan in the world, but I defer my crown to Kory. The whole cast and crew function like a well-oiled machine, and obviously take great pleasure in their relationships and opportunity to work together on such a meaningful production.


Photos courtesy of the talented Rex Barrett at Glass Eye Studios

The time for you to get your ass into a seat for a performance is drawing nigh. Tonight (Saturday, January 29th) the Boom will host their final performance for an audience ages 21 and up, starting at 8pm. Numerous requests for an all ages performance inspired the Academy of Contemporary Music at University of Central Oklahoma to take up the reins. Although unaffiliated with the Boom, the production will be moved to the ACM@UCO Performance Lab (323 E Sheridan Ave) in Bricktown for a single show on February 5th. Anyone is welcome. Tickets will be $20, or $15 for students. Order your ticket today by calling (405) 343-1570.

(c) Grace Gordon, All rights reserved. Photos (c) Rex Barrett at Glass Eye Studios, All rights reserved.

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