Under the leadership of artistic director W. Jerome Stevenson, Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre Company has made it a mission to cater the theater’s schedule to both traditional and intellectually stimulating material.
Last season, the company balanced performances of the Green Day-inspired musical American Idiot and the sardonic musical adaptation of the 1988 cult film Heathers with performances of family-friendly Shrek.
Stevenson takes pride in brining material not normally seen in a town of 10,000 people. The trend continues with the Pollard’s production of Tony-Award winning Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which runs Friday through Oct. 28.
“We’ve tried over the course of several years to try to build an audience that, in addition to more traditional fares, expects something that hasn’t been seen and something that will engage their minds,” Stevenson said in a phone interview with Oklahoma Gazette.
End of an era
Actor Matthew Alvin Brown first performed the titular character of Hedwig in the Oklahoma City area in 2002. The production at the Pollard will be Brown’s swan song in the area before he leaves to take the artistic director job at Tulsa Project Theatre.
Brown saw an original off-Broadway production of Hedwig at the St. James Theatre while living in New York.
“It changed my life,” Brown said. “I knew that this is what want theater to be. I would go back often every couple of weeks to see the show, and I knew immediately that I needed to do it one day.”
After Hedwig closed off-Broadway in 2002, he acquired the rights through a local Oklahoma City theater group.
Brown and singer Renee Anderson, who plays Hedwig’s husband and bandmate Yitzhak, have been a duo for about eight years. Much like Neil Patrick Harris was replaced by Andrew Rannells in the Broadway adaptation of the play, The Pollard will usher in a new era with Jared Blount taking the main role and Beth Lipton playing Yitzhak Oct. 21-28th.
“Jared is one of the best actors in town,” Brown said. “Hedwig is a real challenge because you have to walk a fine line between standup comedy, drag show and heartbreaking reality. He is equipped to handle all of that. … People will be able to go see both shows because we aren’t doing a Xerox copy of each other’s performance. I hope he gets to do it for 15 to 20 years too.”
Ahead of its time
Hedwig is the creation of actor and singer John Cameron Mitchell, who began performing the play off-Broadway at clubs and bars in 1998. Mitchell also wrote and starred in the 2001 film adaptation of the musical, but it was a box-office flop, although Stephen Trask, the leader of Hedwig’s band in the original theatrical version, earned a Grammy nomination for the film’s musical score.
“It was the first musical of which I was aware that didn’t perform a ‘Broadway version’ of rock and roll,” Stevenson said. “They played with country and Western, punk, but at the heart, it is a rock score.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays with time and character constraints over the course of its storytelling but unfurls the tormented life of Hedwig, born Hansel Schmidt, self-described “slip of a girlyboy” in communist East Berlin. Hansel falls in love with an American solider, who convinces him to undergo a sex change operation in order to escape to the United States. The surgery is botched, leaving Hansel with only an “angry inch” and the adopted name Hedwig.
Mitchell told the Toronto Star that Hedwig is more than a woman or man.
“Hedwig didn’t choose her fate, but her wound created something absolutely unique,” Mitchell said in a 2014 interview. “It’s about the possibility of art healing, of love mixing with art to find some kind of wholeness and peace. … She’s a gender of one, and that is accidentally so beautiful.”
After the film version of the play, Hedwig survived mostly overseas, until the Broadway production first helmed by Harris and director Michael Mayer vaulted it into the zeitgeist in 2014, just as trans issues were becoming part of the national conversation. Caitlin Jenner came out as a trans woman in April 2015.
“John Cameron Mitchell wrote this 20 years ago, and it’s still ahead of its time,” Stevenson said. “He created a character that is layer upon layer upon layer. She’s colored with all level of fault, bad decision and anger. It’s not simply a pride parade. [Mitchell] decided to unravel those layers and show the humanity beneath this human being. …We can all realize how hard it is to look at ourselves and say we’re not happy with whom we’ve become. The transgender topic is just another layer that provides texture, but the narrative is far more human than oddity.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs Friday through Oct. 20 with Brown and Anderson as leads and Oct. 21-28 with Blount and Lipton. Tickets are $15-$30. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and include two midnight matinees Saturday and Oct. 23.
Visit thepollard.org or call 405-282-2800.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. and midnight Saturday, 8 p.m. Oct. 20, 8 p.m. and midnight Oct. 21, 8 p.m. Oct. 26-28
Pollard Theatre | 120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie
thepollard.org | 405-282-2800
print headline: Hello, goodbye, Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre Company’s rendition of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is OKC-area’s swan song for a longtime leading duo.