Ryan Alexander McDonald in the Ghost Light Projects production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Ryan Alexander McDonald in the Ghost Light Projects production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Capitalizing on the success of the Tony award winning production headlined by Neil Patrick Harris in New York, Ghostlight Projects reanimates its production of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch in the less than glorious Cobalt Hotel bar. With Jessie Award nominee Ryan Alexander McDonald returning to the titular spotlight and supported by the exceptional Lee McKeown as the tortured Yitzhak, Ghost Light Projects proves that a tiny grit-filled Vancouver stage can compete with the glamourous Belasco Theatre any night of the week.

[pullquote]Ghost Light projects has produced precisely what Hedwig and the Angry Inch is meant to be – a glorious heaving mess that finds redemption and acceptance through love.[/pullquote]The show begins without a bang as the band shuffles to the stage to tune up. With scraps of cloth covered in glitter, and sheets of plywood stacked against the wall, Hedwig’s entrance is like that of a queen in a cesspit, suceeding in pulling us into her utterly believable back room concert where her mish-mashed dress of camouflage, pinstripe, and neon fuchsia fringe fits like the cold snap of a latex glove. More monologue than musical, Hedwig tells the tale of how she came to be here on this gloomy October evening.

From East German “slip of a girly-boy” to wronged American rock goddess, Hedwig’s story is essentially the quest to find love and wholeness in a world determined to see her cut apart – both literally and figuratively. As the audience watches, she slowly unravels layer after layer of pain and tragedy, until finally the makeup, wigs, and costumes are stripped away leaving behind a near-naked soul desperately ready to give someone the love, acceptance, and support s/he has always wanted.

But if you think this is a drama, think again, for Hedwig is far from the pitiful victim. With an acerbic wit and no fear of a good dick joke, Hedwig expertly plays her audience with equal pokes and prods of humour and heartache. While she may totter and stumble around the stage shedding layers of clothing and pain like an emotionally tortured onion, she does so with a fatalistic grace and self-deprecation that has the audience giggling as their eyes glisten. Small moments like the carwash or her frequent mouth dabbing offer clever physical one-liners that add the edge to Hedwig’s otherwise guarded sunniness.

McDonald’s Hedwig is a composite of contradictions that is reason enough for his three best actor nominations (Jessie, Ovation, CTC) . However, his lack of physicality creates a few static numbers which could be improved with a little more rock and roll swagger. Lee McKeown’s Yitzhak, long suffering husband to Hedwig, commands the stage with little more than the flick of an eyelid and the cock of her head. Vocally and physically powerful, McKeown’s performance almost eclipses that of McDonald’s despite her lack of dialogue.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a production that is unpolished and rough, with musical slip ups, miss-steps, and unexplained vocal ghosts (why can I still hear McKeown’s voice when she’s no longer on stage in the finale?), but that only works to its advantage. Ghost Light projects has produced precisely what Hedwig and the Angry Inch is meant to be – a glorious heaving mess that finds redemption and acceptance through love.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Directed by Randie Parliament & Greg Bishop. Musical direction by Ty Lowe. On stage at The Cobalt (917 Main St) until November 1. Visit http://ghostlightprojects.com for tickets and information.