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‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ rocks subversion-starved local theater scene

Dancing the line between a rock concert in an abandoned RadioShack and a one-man musical, the production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at An Other Theater Company is a show the likes of which has never been seen in Utah County — literally.

The show, which is making its Utah County debut with this production, is set during a “one night only” performance by Hedwig (played by Cleveland McKay Nicoll and Jordan Kramer on alternating nights), a genderqueer East German rocker who follows her former lover-turned-rival’s tour across the US. She’s accompanied by her band, The Angry Inch, and her husband and backup singer Yitzhak (Laura Chapman).

In between songs influenced by glam rockers such as David Bowie and Iggy Pop, we learn how Hedwig became Hedwig. It’s a story about identity, wholeness and striving to find a place in the world.

“Hedwig” is most notable for a 2014 Broadway run starring Neil Patrick Harris, as well as a 2001 film of the same name starring John Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell also wrote the book for the musical, with Stephen Trask providing the music and lyrics.

Where most theaters in the area shy away from shows that aren’t family-friendly, An Other Theatre strives to produce plays for community members who are starved for subversive, challenging theater. In their mission statement, the company emphasizes providing a voice to those “who are overlooked in the mainstream local theatre scene,” according to their promotional material, with a particular emphasis on works by women and LGBTQ individuals. Hedwig deals with themes of gender identity, presentation and fluidity—topics that are almost never discussed in Orem and Provo’s theater market, where the Disney catalogue dominates.

Cleveland McKay Nicoll, as Hedwig, performs with their fictional rock band, The Angry Inch. An Other Theatre Company’s current run is the first official production of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ ever in Utah County. (Photo provided by An Other Theatre Company.)

Director and company founder Kacey Spadafora handles both the irreverent and contemplative moments in the show well, allowing Nicoll and Kramer to shine in their own ways.

In the program notes, dramaturg Frey Seagrove-Nelson stressed that “Hedwig” only represents one kind of experience. “[The show] is a transgender story, not the transgender story,” Seagrove-Nelson said. “Much of the play is about Hedwig realizing within herself that she doesn’t conform to gender binary standards. More than two decades after her creation, Hedwig truly continues to defy categorization.”

The theater itself is an appropriate setting for an “internationally ignored songstress” to perform. An Other Theatre is located in old, remodeled retail space in the Provo Towne Center mall and furnished with recovered church pews, which gives the space an off-the-beaten-path feel.  The set design by Scott Caldwell transports the audience from a suburban mall to a grungy underground punk rock show the second they walk through the door.

Lest you expect a musical set to a CD soundtrack, Hedwig’s band, featuring Robert Ikey Starks on guitar, Celeste Fay on bass, Scott Robinson on drums, and Brooks Hiatt on keyboard, is along for the ride, providing live music and entertaining interactions with their frontwoman.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs every weekend through March 23. Tickets can be purchased through An Other Theater Company’s website.

Photos courtesy of An Other Theatre Company

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