Pictured: Justin Carter-Van Pelt and Kate Gilchrist. Photo by Michael Severo.
Hedwig was born Hansel Schmidt, a sweet and thoughtful boy, in East Berlin. His American father walked out while he was young, leaving him with his unaffectionate mother and a radio for company. In his 20’s, Hansel met Luther, an American soldier who fell in love with Hansel and offered to take him from the oppression of East Berlin to freedom in the United States. The only catch is that Luther will have to marry Hansel, and for that, Hansel will need to become a woman. Using his mother’s passport, and name, Hansel undergoes a surgery to begin his journey. Unfortunately, the surgery was botched. Hansel, now Hedwig, is left with “an opening that healed” and “an angry inch.”
Hedwig did marry Luther and move to the U.S. but was left alone in a trailer park a year later. Left with few options, Hedwig does whatever odd jobs she can to get by and rediscovers her love of music. She meets Tommy, a straight-laced boy, while at a babysitting gig and they hit it off. Tommy begins performing with Hedwig, but soon leaves her behind to start his own (much more successful) music career as Tommy Gnosis.
The show takes place when Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch, are performing near the venue that is hosting a Tommy Gnosis concert. The entire production is “a simulated rock concert” with plenty of rock music numbers and a touching story told in a series of monologues.
Hedwig (Justin Carter-Van Pelt) is gorgeous and confident as she takes the stage for the opening number. She teases the audience, and keeps up a steady stream of banter while she recounts her early years and introduces her band: Yitzhak (Katie Gilchrist), her husband and backup vocalist; Schlatko (Felix Dukes) on drums; Krzyzhtoff (Sean Hogge) on guitar; Jacek (Mark Johnson) on bass; and Skszp (Richie St. John) on Keyboard, guitars, and vocals. This first part of the show is fun and endearing. You have to love Hedwig for her quick wit and amazing vocals.
It’s not long, however, before we begin to see that real, and well-earned, pain lies beneath the glittery and larger than life persona. As Hedwig recounts more of her story, Yitzhak and the rest of the band patiently help her along and await the next number.
This is a different kind of show — offering only two characters and the band. The emotional depth required of the actors is astounding, but Carter-Van Pelt and Gilchrist are up to the task and magnificent in their roles. The band does not disappoint either. They provide excellent music and play along with all of Hedwig’s whims, even as her veneer begins to crack.
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH is an emotional and funny show that is guaranteed to entertain. Justin Carter-Van Pelt is radiant in this role, and should not be missed.
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH is playing at the Arts Asylum through February 17, 2018. For more information visit hedwigkc.com.