Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Breathe.Feel.Love)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a real theatre drag, at Toronto’s Drake Underground

When last we saw our hero, Seth Drabinsky, he was preparing to fire up his curling iron and bust out another dozen-and-a-half performances of his signature role, Hedwig. On Wednesday night at The Drake Underground I caught his opening night, sharing the stage with the extraordinary L.A. Lopes, a match which – eventually – sparked the room and burned bright.

The show got off to a bit of a rocky start, with Drabinsky seeming tentative about his lines and not entirely present in his Hedwig self. Lopes and the band, comically sullen and disinterested, nevertheless brought mighty musicianship to the task. But Drabinsky seemed more like he was trying to channel John Cameron Mitchell than trying to inhabit Hedwig, and it showed. None too helpful was an obviously inebriated audience member in the front row who took any quieter moment to shout various compliments – while Hedwig was trying to talk. Note to Madame Louche: when the drag queen tells you to shut up, she means it. True story.

To my great relief and delight, whatever was troubling the first twenty minutes of the show lifted like a toxic fog, and shimmering out of the gloom emerged a much more interesting Hedwig. It was great to see Drabinsky find his stiletto legs and belting voice in time for Sugar Daddy (a number that certainly deserves it) and keep it up to the end – about which, more in a moment.

L.A. Lopes, it must be said, had it all the whole time. Admittedly, Yitzhak as a character doesn’t have a great deal to do acting-wise. There are some bits of business, all well handled, but Lopes’ real magic is her voice, which is a truly excellent instrument. I’m a little surprised that she hasn’t blown up already, but the internet indicates that she’s making her mark as a film actor and screenwriter in the meantime, making her at least a triple threat.

As the show wound to it’s bittersweet, lovely conclusion, I enjoyed Drabinsky more and more as Hedwig. Admittedly, even at the end – and in theory legless drunk – he still had a little more starch than I would have liked to see onstage. But by Origin of Love, I was completely on board the Hedwig train.

It’s also worth mentioning that The Drake Underground is is many ways the perfect space for this sort of show. The sound system is really top-notch, with lots of room and power for the full band and both vocalists – whether it’s a belting duet or Lopes noodling around in “I Will Always Love You” under Drabinsky’s Tommy Gnosis story. Be warned, however, that tickets are general admission and only perhaps the first two-dozen audience members are guaranteed seats. After that, you’ll have to stand the whole time, not just while you lift your glass when Drabinsky, triumphant and exhausted in sequinned booty shorts, sings her final anthem and departs cloaked mostly in her dignity.

Details

– Hedwig and The Angry Inch plays at The Drake Underground, 1150 Queen Street West.

– Performances are Wednesday through Saturday nights, 9-27 January at 7:30pm with Saturday matinees at 3pm.

– Tickets are $35 ($25 for students and arts workers).

– Buy tickets online, or by phone at 1-800-838-3006. Preshow and experience packages can be had at http://www.kapipal.com/hedwigtoronto.