Drag rock musical takes center stage
by Libby Nicolay
A revelation is brewing as Chance Theater gears up to deliver John Cameron Mitchell’s iconic “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a uniquely glitter-soaked journey into the life of a drag queen, Hedwig. Forget what you thought you knew about musicals—this is a dazzling exploration of identity, love, and self-discovery set to the beat of glam rock.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” first opened in 1998 and revolutionized musical theater with its gender-bending narrative. The play follows Hedwig's journey from East Berlin, navigating a botched gender reassignment surgery and embracing a rockstar life in the American Midwest. “Hedwig” became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, captivating young audiences by its exploration of love and identity.
Matthew McCray, a seasoned director throughout Orange County and Los Angeles, is spearheading this production. He shared insights into his approach to this celebrated musical and what audiences can expect from his fresh take on the classic.
McCray first came to the project with an entirely fresh perspective. "I had not seen the show. I had not seen the movie, so I had a very blank canvas to work from, and that is a luxury these days," he shared. His lack of preconceived notions allowed him to approach the play authentically, without being influenced by any other versions.
McCray soon realized– “Hedwig” is unlike the traditional musical. McCray emphasized the show’s format, being a band show that feels like a concert and eventually evolves into something greater as the story unfolds. The show’s seamless blend of music and visuals offers audiences a truly immersive and transformative experience.
Hedwig has always been synonymous with visual extravagance, with a history of wild and memorable costumes. "Our costume designer is definitely coming up with his own vision for the costumes,” McCray said, “but we are also trying to bring into that vision some of the iconic looks and images that have followed the show since its first premiere." Thus, they’ve created a hybrid vision, honoring the original looks while also infusing their own originality.
McCray hopes to bring Hedwig’s story to life with respect to the show’s origins and important themes: "I want it to feel authentic. I want it to feel respectful, and I also want it to feel fun and not quite so precious and careful, especially with issues of identity and sexuality." He wants to address important subjects in a playful, fun way, and create an atmosphere that will allow audiences to be drawn right into Hedwig’s world.
McCray mentioned the enduring legacy of “Hedwig” in the LGBTQ+ community, which includes a few cast members who remember the show’s initial craze. "I've got a cast, some of which have idolized this play since they were young," McCray said. He talked about the cast bringing an “institutional memory” to the production–that while they’re contributing to its legacy, they’re honoring what the show has meant to them.
Bringing Hedwig’s flashy, larger-than-life-ness to a more intimate space like Chance’s could be seen as a challenge, but when asked how he thinks the show will fare, McCray highlighted the show's suitability for a smaller space. "Every audience member feels like they're a part of the show," he explained. The conversation between Hedwig and the audience is at the core of the play. The smaller space will enhance this connection and invite audiences into a conversation.
McCray aims to strike a chord with the audience, hoping they'll connect with the show's embedded universal themes. Hedwig's central idea of restarting and re-identifying oneself is a brave step and makes the story more universal than it may initially seem. McCray invites everyone to find something relatable and inspiring in Hedwig's journey.
With this glam rock masterpiece on the horizon, prepare to be captivated by a rockstar who transcends the ordinary. Be ready for an experience that will linger, inviting you to celebrate individuality and join the universal dance of self-discovery. Secure your tickets for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Chance Theater, and let the glitter-soaked journey begin.
Libby Nicolay is a writer, literary manager, and local theater enthusiast working in the entertainment industry in Orange County and beyond.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center
5522 E La Palma Ave, Anaheim, CA 92807
January 26 - February 25, 2024
(888) 455-4212, www.chancetheater.com