Raleigh Little Theatre has recently been offering shows with adult content to attract audiences beyond those for traditional community theater fare. The edgy glam-rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is the company’s boldest effort yet, with early sellouts and an extended run confirming such shows will sell.
John Cameron Mitchell’s script and Stephen Trask’s music and lyrics follow an East German rock singer in the 1980s who wants to escape. He undergoes a sex change to marry a U.S. soldier, but the surgery goes awry, leaving him scarred on several levels. As Hedwig, he arrives in America but is soon abandoned. Hedwig becomes involved with young Tommy who steals Hedwig’s songs and becomes a famous rock star. Hedwig now plays dive bars, bitterly telling his story. The 90-minute one-act puts the audience at one of these backwater shows.
“Hedwig” has come a long way from its off-Broadway beginnings in 1998, landing on Broadway last year with noted actors taking the lead, including Neil Patrick Harris and Michael C. Hall. Despite such high-profile attention, the show still can shock, its unapologetic rawness is not to everyone’s taste. But those who can see beyond the transgender jokes and “Rocky Horror”-like stances will find a moving narrative about lessons learned.
The show falls squarely on the actor playing Hedwig, and Chris Maxwell is up to the challenge. From his first flamboyant entrance, with outrageous wig and glitter makeup, he’s in full control of the sassy character, strutting and sashaying. He’s got the voice for hard rock or tender ballad and manipulates his comic timing for maximum effect.
There’s also backup singer Yitzhak, Hedwig’s “husband,” a former drag queen who resents Hedwig’s talent and constantly argues with him. Lydia D. Kinton’s grumpy characterization is transcended in song, her room-filling voice soaring. They both get fine support from music director Craig Johnson and three other on-stage musicians.
Director Jesse R. Gephart makes full use of Thomas Mauney’s raised stage and runway with Cailen Waddell’s flashy lighting adding further atmosphere. Vicki Olson’s kitschy costuming and Andrew Willis and Khaliah Jackson’s outrageous make-up designs round out the show’s startling impact.
Sexual references and off-color humor should ward off the easily offended, but the show should readily entertain open-minded theatergoers.
Want to go?
What: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
Where: Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 14-16 and May 21-23; 3 p.m. Sunday and May 17 and 24; and midnight May 16.
Tickets: $18.74-$22.48, including tax; May 16 midnight benefit is $32.79. On stage cabaret tables $11.24.
More information: 919-821-3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org