Local 'Hedwig' a provocative debut for creative team

From David Bowie to Boy George to Caitlin Jenner, gender blurring and androgyny has made for provocative entertainment and social commentary, and perhaps no production has been more bombastic or incisive in recent years than “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which makes its area stage debut this weekend at Rock Island’s Speakeasy theater.

The show, an unrepentantly over-the-top musical and dramatic extravaganza about a transgender singer that explores themes of love, freedom, gender identity and social politics, was critically acclaimed, showered by awards and a box office smash since its 1998 off Broadway debut, leading to its 2014 Broadway debut. Shocking perhaps due to its content, but nevertheless lauded for its sensitive and insightful portrayal of it and the depth of its characters.

“On the surface, it’s a two person drag show with rock music and if you want to come just for that, I won’t send you away,” said Tristan Tapscott, who is producing and directing the show. “I hope you have a great time. But it is an important social and political commentary on sexuality and individuality. Now… If you want to be moved and THINK, then this is an important show for a very important time in our country. You will get all that AND some damn good rock music.  Also, it’s far more than a drag show. There’s no lip syncing. Anthony (Natarelli, the star of the show) is singing his heart out and making me believe.”

The casting of Natarelli, 21, who has quickly built up an impressive on-stage resume with a variety of roles, was key, Tapscott said.

“Anthony has a certain electricity and energy on stage that I’ve always admired,” Tapscott said. “I work with him a lot and much of the time he stays one step ahead of me which is what I prefer when working on a piece.”

As for Natarelli, he’s thrilled at the opportunity.

Hedwig has been on my bucket-list of roles for a while, and it’s actually one of the first ones I get to cross off, which is a very exciting thing to say that hasn’t totally sunk in yet,” Natarelli said. “She’s such a unique character because the trans community, even with all the progress that’s been made, is still very easily dehumanized in the public eye sometimes, and usually you’d expect a trans-gendered character to be focused on breaking down that wall of thought. Hedwig doesn’t do that though, she puts that separation between herself and the people around her, and it’s almost by accident, which makes it more powerful to me, that we have that moment of humanizing, personal connection between Hedwig and the audience. It’s a very unique dynamic, and it has had me hooked since I first listened to the show. I don’t think Tristan even finished his sentence before I started squealing like a fanboy about doing this show. That and it is so nice to finally be singing a rock show, in a rock role, again.

“I’d be a liar if I said that the most fun thing about this show isn’t just absolutely rocking out with the band,” Natarelli added. “The show has a natural energy to it that can pull just about anybody in, but once you get the amazing musicianship Ian, Peter, and Kyle bring to the table, and you hear them just killing it live, there’s nothing like it. What amazes me is their ability to emote through the music. None of the band members speak, but there are some real emotional moments that wouldn’t seem right with any other band. They’ve truly made this one of the greatest experiences for me.”
What’s his favorite part of the production?

“The last four songs of the show,” Natarelli said. “There’s very little dialogue, but it is a very moving, dynamic section of the show that really stands out to me. I won’t say too much about what happens, but there are feels to be had.”

So what led Tapscott, always known for interesting and often provocative production decisions, to bring it to the local stage?

“I’ve always liked the piece but I never loved it,” Tapscott said. “Neil Patrick Harris recently starred in it on Broadway and hearing him talk about it piqued my interested and I started looking into it again. That NPH cast album is amazing and can sway anybody. Passion is infectious and you can hear his passion in that recording.”

The show tackles a lot of issues of gender identity, so how does Tapscott feel that fits into the zeitgeist given contemporary issues of gender (e.g. Caitlin Jenner, etc.)?
“It makes it less of a joke, less of a circus,” he said.

But is the area ready for it? Tapscott thinks the Quad-Cities is more receptive to a show of this type given the changing times and tastes in theater.
“Ten years ago this would have bombed,” Tapscott said. “I think the area wants this kind of challenge and this kind of raw material. A renaissance started in 2004 and we are finally seeing some of the results.”

Natarelli agrees, adding that he feels the show will have a definite resonance with audiences of all types.

“I think, at the very least, people leave with a better understanding and more open mind about people,” Natarelli said. “It does a good job of reiterating the idea that we’re all people, we’ve all got problems, which, to me, is something people may need to be reminded of right now.”

 

‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’
Doors open at 7, show begins at 8
Jan. 22-23, 29-30
The Speakeasy, 1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island
Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door
The show is rated R for content and is for patrons 18-and-older only
Call (309) 786-7733, ext. 2 for tickets

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Local 'Hedwig' a provocative debut for creative team
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.