Known for its commitment to excellence, diversity, inclusion and willingness to take artistic risk, the Cape Fear Regional Theatre is bringing the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit Hedwig And The Angry Inch to Fayetteville May 26 –June 5.
But is Fayetteville ready for Hedwig? CFRT Artistic Director Tom Quaintance and Hedwig Director Edward Carignan think so and have assembled a talented group of performers ready to deliver.
“The play has a big heart,” Quaintance said. “It is a fantastic story with a great character and a beautiful message.”
The story is accessible and may appeal to a much broader audience than expected, Quaintance said. It may even surprise some people who think the Fayetteville community is not ready for the tale of a woman leading a rock band called The Angry Inch. Well, to be honest, there is a bit more to the story. But isn’t there always?
Hedwig is a transsexual punk-rock girl from East Berlin touring the U.S. with her band as she follows a former lover who stole her songs. During the musical, we learn of Hedwig’s love for an Army soldier stationed in Germany (before the wall came down) that brings her to America, and another former lover who breaks her heart and goes on to become an international rock star.
It is also a story about Hedwig (played by J.J. Parkey) and her current partner Yitzhak (played by Ruthie Stephens) and how that relationship helps Hedwig come to terms with her experiences. That part of the story is one the director finds interesting to share with the audience.
“It’s a healing process between them… this cycle of abuse, mistreatment of lovers,” Carignan said.
Carignan has done this musical five times with the same two lead actors, and seeing them grow as performers is something he finds rewarding.
The production is far from stale, Carignan said, as each performance is tailored to the location where it is being performed.
“It [the performance] is based on the time you’re in and the place you’re in,” Carignan said. “I think that’s what hooks people, the show isn’t set, changes keep it exciting.”
“We break the fourth wall,” Stephens said of the actors’ interaction with audience members as Hedwig tells her tale through song, inserting local phrases, jokes and subject matter.
Part of localizing the production includes keeping abreast of local politics Parkey said. “I’ve done research and I’m staying up to date with HB2,” Parkey said. “It would be silly for us to ignore that.”
Stephens believes the musical offers a shared experience that can help break down stereotypes. She said that some have a problem with transgender people because they’re afraid, they don’t know anyone who is transgender.
“It’s important that they get to meet someone from the trans community,” she said. After seeing Hedwig, audience members can “come away feeling like they met someone who’s a human being.”
Hedwig, as a character, has to be knowledgeable of the environment, Parkey said. It is one of the things he likes most about the show.
Adding a few local ties draws the audience in to this story that is “funny, heartwarming, at times silly” according to Quaintance. “It’s an incredibly entertaining night out. The audience will walk away with a deeper understanding of the human experience.”
At the forefront of that experience is Hedwig with glitter, glam, makeup and heels.
“It’s a vulgar character but as she tells her story, you end up on her side,” Carignan said. “By the end of the show, people are won over.”
Parkey was won over the first time he performed as Hedwig in college.
“It is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I enjoy putting myself in tough situations and figuring it out.”
In school, Parkey, who says he was meek and an introvert, was encouraged to play the boy next door, and nerdy characters. “But I felt that was not me.”
“Hedwig has redefined who I am as an artist,” he said. “By being able to take on her voice it has taught me how to have my own. I think I’ve learned how to be confident and daring as a person and as a performer.”
Written by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, Hedwig has a celebrated soundtrack.
“This is, I think, the greatest rock score in the history of musicals,” said Quaintance.
The musical has gained a “Rocky Horror” type following, and CFRT invites the audience to wear costumes to a Hedwig costume party for the May 27 performance. Party events are scheduled before and after the performance.
Hedwig And The Angry Inch contains sexual content and mature language. It is recommended for theatre-goers at least 17-years-old. For more information, call 910.323.4233 or visit www.cfrt.org