Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical many people have heard of but less have seen. Premiering off-Broadway in 1998, Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell’s genderqueer production was then adapted into a 2001 cult-classic film, with Mitchell also in the titular role. Since then, it has gone on to make its way into popular TV series such as Sex Education and Riverdale, and has become synonymous with freedom, inclusivity and self-love.
So, the story goes: genderqueer rock star and struggling artist Hedwig Robinson falls in love with young Christian musical protégé Tommy Gnosis, only for the latter to reject them (due to a botched gender reassignment surgery that has left Hedwig with the titular ‘Angry Inch’), steal her songs, and become a massively famous rock star. As the band shadow Tommy’s tour, Hedwig spills anecdotes about their life and career to their adoring audience.
One might think for a story that seems so pertinent and emotionally intense that the musical could be dour, but the story is handled with equal amounts of humour and sensitivity.
We drift into the show with a plethora of 1980s new wave and glam rock hits, including Blondie’s ‘Dreaming’, a tone setter for the type of music that will follow.
Jamie Fletcher’s take on John Cameron Mitchell’s script is extremely faithful, but she sprinkles in a few Mancunian quips about Rochdale and Rusholme, much to the crowd’s delight. Ben Stones’ set situates us – the audience – in a sort of Greater Manchester social club, where Hedwig and the Angry Inch are performing a concert. A garland of St Georges flags hang on the wall, almost framing an advertisement for Jonathan Larson’s iconic rock musical Rent.
From the opening musical number, ‘Tear Me Down’, Divina De Campo has the audience under their spell. Adorned in a somewhat patriotic looking stars and stripes cape, they spread their wings to reveal the message GENDER IS A CONSTRUCT emblazoned in huge pink letters, receiving rapturous applause from the audience.
Divina De Campo is undeniably one of the most talented queens to come out of the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise. They throw themselves right into the role of Hedwig, with every ounce of humour and empathy, flamboyance and fabulosity. And God can they sing! And dance! And act!
Much of the dialogue is delivered by Divina, who affects an exaggerated German drawl as they reveal more about their life. They deftly change accent to recall things said by other characters – the deep Southern drawl of the US Sergeant who seduced them and the nasal whining of the teenage Tommy Gnosis, along with a couple of regional British accents which gain a few laughs.
Divina sports the signature blonde victory rolled wig, which they eventually remove at perhaps their most vulnerable moment in the show, as they perform closing number ‘Midnight Radio.’ They also undergo a series of costume changes throughout the show. From diamante-encrusted denim cut-offs to an enormous fur coat which she turns around to reveal is splattered in blood for dramatic effect.
Under the brilliant choreography of Mark Smith, Divina throws themselves into each dance routine, using the entire stage as intended. ‘Wig in a Box’ – my favourite song from the musical – is triumphant, with Divina doing their best Tina Turner-sequel ‘Proud Mary’ shimmy. As in the film, the lyrics to the final chorus are projected on a screen at the back of the stage, karaoke-style, encouraging the audience to singalong – which they do!
But this musical would be nothing without the extremely talented Angry Inch – Hedwig’s band who play not only every musical number live, but also provide backing music and instrumentals to Hedwig’s cabaret-esque confessionals. Led by superb Music Supervisor and Musical Director Alex Beetschen, who also plays keyboards, with Frances Bolley on lead guitar, Isis Dunthorne on drums and Jess Williams on bass, the band are absolutely electric, imbuing the stage with an infectious amount of energy.
Elijah Ferreira is excellent as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband who often bares the brunt of their tantrums and demands. He brings the wit and charm that Yitzhak’s character demands and also takes on the role of Tommy Gnosis in some of the flashback scenes. Ferreira’s musical talent and comedic timing should not go unnoticed. He provides several laughs popping up in the right-hand dressing room and shreds on guitar, not to mention his impressive vocal contributions. Between the pair of them, Divina and Elijah work the crowd as if this really is a rock concert, beckoning people to wave their arms, clap along, and harmonise.
As with John Cameron Mitchell’s original script, Fletcher’s production is laden with laugh-out-loud moments and sexual innuendos aplenty, and it never gets boring or feels like too much. Nothing is off-limits in Hedwig. During the hilarious ‘Sugar Daddy’, where Hedwig tells us of their encounter with the US Sergeant who seduced them with ‘gummi bears’ (pronounced goomi) – a role figuratively taken on by Ferreira in a black leather cap and jacket – they are joined on stage by a giant harness-wearing inflatable pink gummy bear. It’s ridiculous but it’s absolutely brilliant.
It goes without saying that the cast receive two standing ovations by the end. It’s a testament to their talent and the importance of this show. Divina’s Hedwig is larger than life; sometimes confessional storyteller, sometimes stand-up comic, sometimes rock ‘n’ roll mega star, but always with the audience hanging onto their every word. As director Jamie Fletcher says, “Even though this musical was born in the 90’s, it absolutely feels like a story for right now.”
An unmissable production with a stellar cast, superbly executed story, and captivating musical numbers Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs at HOME until 11th May.