Forget Crews and Tangos—go see Hedwig!
I admit, I basically knew nothing about this show before going into it. But I think that’s part of what makes this show so special—the narrative is full of surprises and tricks. Going into the show with no expectations is what makes it so impressive.
Hart House Theatre’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical directed by Rebecca Ballarin. The show follows the story of Hedwig, played by James King, throughout her childhood and growth as a genderqueer rock performer. The show starts before the show even starts. As soon as you walk into the theatre, the band is already on stage “preparing” themselves for the show. The audience is buzzing with conversation. It feels like walking into an indie rock concert.
The first half of the show truly does feel like a really good drag show, filled with lively audience interaction. At this point of the show, not much is happening at the surface level. Hedwig is performing some “fun” musical numbers and occasionally teasing the audience with sexual innuendos and references to Toronto.
The plot really emerges during the second half of the show. The audience’s initial impression of the narrative completely flips, becoming something magical. Both Hedwig and Yitzhak (Lauren Mayer), Hedwig’s husband, are wonderfully juicy in terms of emotional fragility and depth. Hedwig’s story of growing up is both haunting and draining because of the obstacles she has faced with abandonment—both in her family life and romantic life. Yitzhak’s story of coping with Hedwig’s abusive behaviour and what he has sacrificed for her brings us moments of comedy while still being heart-wrenching. One can assume that the rehearsal process and the work that we see unfold on stage must have been emotionally exhausting. The actors should really be commended for their commitment to the roles due to these difficulties, as they both knocked their performances out of the park.
This show is very loud and yet the most powerful moments for me are the moments of silence. The stillness that exploded on stage during Hedwig’s biggest emotional meltdown was a clear highlight of this production—in these moments, the entire room fell silent with the show. In theatre, you often hear people say “embrace the silence,” and it was so electrifying to watch two actors fully master that on stage.
Another aspect of this show that sets it apart is the intimacy. The show feeds on an intimate feeling— both the performers and Ballarin do an exceptional job at achieving this. There is a door on stage right that the characters open throughout the show, introducing a threat both to the insularity of the show and the psychological safety of Hedwig. This really brings the audience closer to Hedwig as we are all trapped inside Hart House listening to Hedwig’s life while feeling disconnected from the outside world that is beyond that door.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is perfect for anyone that loves powerful theatre. If viewers come to this production expecting a traditional, fun musical, they will be happily mistaken. This show is much more than a drag show or a basic musical and will absolutely satisfy your need for Crews and Tangos, leaving you with a taste of real humanity.