Monday, June 16, 2003

Hedwig rocks with a vengeance

Theater review

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

Hedwig is back with a vengeance. And he/she is rocking Vine Street again.

The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati has revived its hit rock musical from two summers ago and it is just as much fun - maybe more so - than last time.

Director D. Lynn Meyers has wisely added some new touches to keep things fresh for those who saw Hedwig before and to intrigue those who are new to the antics of "the internationally ignored song stylist."

There are new wigs (by David Warda), some staging changes (including a live video cam set-up) and a fabulous new set by Brian Mehring - more about that later.

But most importantly, Meyers has given her cast free reign to take their time in establishing a real rapport with the audience.

Todd Almond is back as Hedwig, the former East German rock star wannabe who was the victim of a botched sex change operation.

At well over 6 feet tall (not counting his high-heeled boots), Almond is an intimidating presence and knows where to find all the shock, schlock and shtick in the glam diva role.

He gently antagonizes the audience with extended ad libs in between telling Hedwig's life story in words (by John Cameron Mitchell) and song (by Stephen Trask).

Yitzhak, Hedwig's underappreciated back-up singer and erstwhile lover is again played by a. Beth Harris (under the band name Harris Mehring).

The script gives Yitzhak almost nothing to say, but Harris does a fine job in creating a lot of humor and not a little heart in Yitzhak's love/hate relationship with Hedwig.

But this show is a rock concert at its core. And Hedwig and her Angry Inch don't disappoint.

The Angry Inch is comprised of a who's who from the local music scene: Sam Womelsdorf and Billy Alletzhauser on guitar, Mike Lamping on bass, Douglas Smith on drums and Andrew Smithson on keyboards.

You can hear a lot of rock and punk influences on Hedwig (such as Billy Idol, David Bowie, the Who and The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Hedwig and the Angry Inch jam through the show's many terrific numbers. And jam they do.

Words don't do justice to Mehring's rock concert set design. Suffice it to say that it's certainly the first time in Cincinnati theater history that the entire back wall was made up of 82 life-size nude female mannequin torsos, each with a light-up athletic cup for disco effect - and that all together form the front of a gigantic video screen.

Bravo Brian. And rock on, Hedwig.


Hedwig and the Angry Inch, through June 29, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 421-3555.

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