Book by John Cameron Mitchell. Music and lyrics by Steven Trask. Directed by Bert Steinmanis. Presented by Pickled Productions. At the Media Club on Saturday, April 28. Continues until May 12
A star is born, folks. I'm not kidding. Seth Drabinsky is in his third year of the undergraduate opera program at UBC, but he sure as hell didn't learn to sing-or act-like this at the opera.
In my experience, opera singers are about the worst actors in the world. They're right up there with ice dancers. But playing the nearly transsexual Hedwig in Pickled Productions' mounting of Hedwig and the Angry Inch , Drabinsky is everything you could want him to be: defiant, transgressive, vulnerable, and extremely well made-up.
Hedwig is a mini rock opera about an East German boy named Hansel who attempts to change his sex for an American GI who promises to marry him and get him out of East Berlin in 1988 (before the wall came down). Hansel changes his name to Hedwig, but the surgeon screws up. The newly constructed vagina heals shut, and Hansel's penis is sliced down to one angry inch. After her divorce, Hedwig goes on to become "an internationally ignored songstress" living in the U.S., while her new boyfriend, Tommy Gnosis, emerges as an adored pop icon-and dumps her.
Steve Trask wrote the score-including the fabulous song "Origin of Love", which is about the division of a spirit into feminine and masculine halves that seek to reunite through sex. There's a punk-rock fury to many of the arrangements and, in this production, musical director Mark Reid and the band Edmonton Block Heater bang that edge home with skilled abandon.
Cathy Salmond plays Yitzhak, Hedwig's flunky and backup singer. Salmond's pitch isn't quite as certain as Drabinsky's, but she makes Yitzhak a credible sad sack and wails beautifully at times.
Ultimately, the show rests on Drabinsky's shoulders, and it's a tailored fit. Pretending to face-fuck a startled audience member, Drabinsky is fearlessly camp. Then he's all melancholy bravado, floating the lyric "I put on some makeup" in a pure falsetto. The quality that ultimately makes this performance work, though, is generosity. At the end of the evening, when Hedwig takes on Tommy's persona-when the feminine and masculine halves reunite in one body-Drabinsky celebrates androgyny with such delirious openheartedness that he made me weep.