courtesy James May

New venue, old musical

Publication YearIssue Date 

Sage Theatre is kicking off its new season and celebrating its new venue with the return of one of its most widely loved productions, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The acclaimed and award-winning musical, written by John Cameron Mitchell and originally premiered in 1998, was produced by Sage Theatres in 2008. The lead actor, Geoffrey Ewert, received a Betty Mitchell Award for his performance as Hedwig.

The musical is a rock ’n’ roll concert interspersed with Hedwig telling the audience about her past, as Hansel Schmidt in communist East Germany during the ’80s, her sex change and her escape from East Berlin. Her glamrock band, the Angry Inch, is named after the result of her botched sex reassignment surgery. The present day story describes her pursuit of fellow rocker Tommy Gnosis.

“It’s very universal,” director Kelly Reay says. “It’s a story of one person’s search for identity and love.”

Reay says it is the lens through which Hedwig views her world that speaks to a contemporary audience — especially since it’s rooted in history that we still see the ramifications of today.
Performed at the 60-seat Joyce Doolittle Theatre in 2008, the musical is being performed this time at Sage Theatre’s new home in the 120-seat Vertigo Theatre. The move allows them to get more out of the performance than in the smaller venue.

“The whole premise of the show is that the audience is there to watch Hedwig and the Angry Inch in performance,” Reay says. “We’re really embracing that and trying to make it the best rock show in town.”

Sage Theatre has brought in designer Terry Gunvordahl to design the set for what Reay calls the “smallest, yet biggest and greatest rock show in the world.”

The production will feature a four-metre projection screen and extensive lighting. Reay promises there will be a few surprises as well.

“We wanted something small and simple but with surprises and with a big bang,” Reay says. “I hesitate to give away much more than that because I don’t want to spoil anything.”

Sage Theatre’s return to Hedwig and the Angry Inch sees the return of a number of artists who were involved with the original 2008 production — including Ewert as Hedwig — as well as the introduction of some fresh talent. Carly McKee, a University of Calgary graduate, is taking over the role of Yitzhak. Although McKee has performed at Sage Theatre’s annual Ignite Festival, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is her first mainstage production with the company.

While the production is a return for Sage Theatres to one of its most successful performances and includes returning cast members, Reay says they wanted to approach it as an entirely new production.

Reay says that after five years, people come back with different perspectives on life and certain things will have a different meaning than they once did.

“There’s more that you understand because you’re a more mature human being,” Reay says.

Reay says that much has changed for the returning cast since they first performed Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but also that some things have remained the same.

“It’s like [Ewert] never left,” Reay says. “The familiarity, the artistic camaraderie — [Ewert] said it’s like coming home. It’s like we never missed a beat.”

For more information and tickets visit sagetheatre.com