Occasionally you see a show and think this would be fabulous if I was halfway down a bottle of wine in a nightclub.
Not very often, admittedly, but that’s the feeling I had throughout Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Probably because this campish musical was brought to South Africa by Gate69, a cabaret in Cape Town owned by Brendan van Rhyn, well known as the trolley-dolly character Cathy Specific and the corset-clad MC of Madame Zingara’s.
Gate69 is a space where people who are different can go and feel safe, he says, and Hedwig went down a treat. Now it’s running at the decidedly more straight-laced Montecasino Theatre, with an age restriction of 16. Hedwig is the story of a pretty East German boy who has a sex change operation to marry a sugar daddy American and escape to the West. She’s dumped by the American, and hooks up with a young guitarist who becomes a huge star under her guidance. But he runs off with simpler bedfellows when he discovers the results of Hedwig’s botched operation.
It helps to know that much about the plot, because the spoken storyline is driven along by a multitude of songs, and I couldn’t always hear the story-telling lyrics over the four-piece band.
The show stars Paul du Toit in the title role and Genna Galloway shuffling around as Yitzhak, the assistant whose chief role is to be the wind beneath Hedwig’s rather battered wings.
Du Toit has a wonderful voice, and a neat way of delivering the innuendoes and saucy quips that pepper the plot. He’s everything he ought to be – bold, brazen, vulgar and vulnerable. Galloway is also excellent, and often steals the show with her dry delivery and power-packed vocals. The music is nicely varied, with rocking numbers, softer moments, and some country and western twang, so the pace varies nicely.
The intricate set gives us a mobile home filled with the tat of a performer on the road, right down to a poster of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. That’s a canny reference, as the whole production has a strong tinge of Bowie, as well as echoes of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, although it’s never achieved the cult status of either. The mobile home also creates a platform for the band to stand atop, deservedly making them part of the performance.
Hedwig was written by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. It opened off-Broadway in 1998 and was later adapted into a film. This South African version is directed by Elizma Badenhorst with musical director Wessel Odendaal fronting the band.
At surface level it’s there to entertain, and on a deeper level, there’s a message about learning to accept people – and yourself – for what you are.
While the showmanship can’t be faulted, I wish I could have heard more of those pithy and intriguing lyrics. One song, The Origin of Love, is based on Aristophanes’ speech explaining that humans were once two-headed, four-armed, four-legged beings until angry gods split them in two, leaving us with a lifelong yearning for our other half. That’s not something you get from the average rock song.
On opening night, a sweaty Du Toit clad only in shiny underpants made a passionate speech about freedom of expression and the need to fight censorship in all its forms. That’s not something you usually get either. But Hedwig isn’t a usual show, so don’t take your mother. Rather take your boyfriend, and your boyfriend’s boyfriend. DM
Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs at Montecasino Theatre until 1 April. Tickets from Computicket
Photo: Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Photo: Supplied
"Those who will not reason are bigots; those who cannot are fools; and those who dare not are slaves." ~ George Gordon Byron