Wig Out at ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’
All In Productions brings rarely produced title to Milwaukee
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Robby McGhee
Hedwig and the Angry Inch breaks the mold of traditional musical theater in a variety of ways—from defying gender roles to its intimate 70’s rock concert setting.
The story follows Hedwig Schmidt, a sensational East German rock goddess and her band “the Angry Inch,” whose name comes from the title character’s botched sex-change operation.
Penned by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened Off-Broadway in 1998. Mitchell played the role of Hedwig in the original production, as well as directed, adapted and starred in the 2001 cult film.
The title got its Broadway break in 2014 with Neil Patrick Harris (of How I Met Your Mother fame) in the leading role, putting the genre-busting, gender-bending show even more in the public eye. Harris took home a Tony for his groundbreaking performance.
“In musical theatre we are so used to clearly defined gender roles, but this show is a change that gives me hope for the future,” says Robby McGhee, who will be directing All In Productions’ upcoming engagement of the musical. “This has been a really great show to discover and have conversations with.”
McGhee adds that Hedwig and the Angry Inch complements All In’s 2018 season theme of “Discoveries,” as Hedwig embarks on a journey towards self-acceptance.
The production features two cast members, Brett Sweeney as Hedwig and Lydia Rose Eiche as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband and a Jewish drag queen from Zagreb. Per the creators’ instructions, Hedwig must be played by a man and Yitzhak by a woman. The actor portraying Hedwig also plays Tommy, Hedwig’s former lover who achieves rock star status by stealing her best songs.
Sweeney and Eiche are joined on stage by a live band comprised of music director Paula Foley Tillen on keyboard, Joey Chelius and Charles Herrenbruck on guitar, Jay Kummer on bass and Ken Marchand on drums.
“I only have about a third of my professional career left, I really don’t want to keep doing things like Oklahoma!,” Tillen says while sporting an emerald green glitter lightning bolt on each side of her face, getting ready to finish the rest of her rock star makeup before a run through of the show. “I love working with all the statements and all the things that John Cameron Mitchell has put into the text and invites us to pick apart.”
For Eiche, the rare opportunity to star in another rock musical drew her to the project. Eiche previously portrayed Rachel Jackson in Soulstice Theatre’s 2016 production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, also under Tillen’s music direction.
“As soon as I knew I was working on this I texted her (Eiche) saying, ‘oh my god you have to audition!,” Tillen exclaimed. “Her voice is perfect for the role.”
Eiche adds that playing Yitzhak has stretched her in a completely new way as a performer. The character forces her to reject her natural tendencies and do the opposite.
“I told my guy friends they needed to teach me how to stand like a man,” Eiche jokes. “I didn’t know how to do that before. This is really a character that needs to mold into everything you are doing.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, presented by All In Productions, runs Sept. 6 – 15 at Next Act Theatre. For tickets visit nextact.org or call the box office at 414-278-7780.