Hedwig and the Angry Inch is strange, yet wonderful
Special to The Okanagan Weekend Edition
The mandate of the Fred Skeleton Theatre Company is “to provide the Okanagan with shows that push boundaries, stretch limits, and introduce the audience to the surprising, the strange and the wonderful.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, at Creekside Theatre in Lake Country at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 11-13 and 18-20, checks all of those boxes.
The American musical comedy-drama focuses on a fictional rock-and-roll band fronted by an East German genderqueer singer. It premiered off-Broadway in 1998, played to record-breaking sell-out crowds on Broadway, won four Tony Awards in 2014 and was reproduced in a 2001 Hollywood film.
The website hedwigbroadway.com describes it as “a genre-bending, fourthwall-smashing musical sensation, with a pulsing score and electrifying performances, (that) tells the story of one of the most unique characters to ever hit the stage.”
Up against that challenge, the local theatre company found Thomas (Tom) Fournier.
Unlike many theatre companies, Fred Skeleton Theatre doesn’t tell you anything about the young man in the program or on its website, fredskeleton.com. However, all you need to know about him is to see him in this one-man/woman/person show as Hansel Schmidt, “a slip of a girly-boy” from communist East Berlin who becomes Hedwig Robinson, ‘the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you.”
He is perfect as a transgender woman singer who survives a botched sex change operation. He not only has the vocal pipes but he can emote - like no one seen in the Central Okanagan in recent years.
Overheard in the opening night audience of about 100, a woman saying Fournier was an example to other vocal students of how to put emotion into the delivery of a song.
In addition, not only can Fournier portray a complex gender identity but he can obviously memorize reams of a complicated script, speaking to the audience like a stand-up comedian and singing for two hours non-stop.
It is simply an amazing performance, perhaps even worthy of a big city production company audition.
One cautionary note: this outrageous and unexpectedly hilarious rock/drag musical contains adult themes and language.
Examples for a family newspaper are hard to come by, but his entrance is wearing a woman’s dress and cape, long blond wig, fishnet stockings and platform footwear with six-inch heels.
When the audience applauded, he responded: “I do love a warm hand on my entrance. Lots of dirty jokes tonight, folks. Saddle up.”
Halfway through, Fournier came off the stage, stood on the armrests over a woman seated in the front rows, and did several pelvic thrusts while crooning: “Come on, sugar daddy, bring it home.”
At several points, the sexual innuendos are so silly that drummer Andy Ashley does the “da dum” that often accompanies a zinger at a concert. That band — Ashley, musical director Neville Bowman on keyboards, Loni Moger on guitar and Stefan Bienz on bass — not only plays but responds to Fournier’s antics while they are attired in orange coveralls.
Even the band introduction at the beginning of the musical was an electrified O Canada.
An unexpected treat was Sammi Winskell as Yitzhak, another genderbending role of a woman playing a husband. Her solo crooning mid-production was to die for. The audience wanted more from her but that had to wait for her finale in a tight-fitting gold dress and a reprise of Wicked Little Town.
If anything impromptu could be added to this local musical’s ending, there should have been the sound of a phone call on the theatre PA system to Helwig (and Fournier) and the message: “Off-Broadway calling. Can you come in for an audition?”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is playing this weekend at the Creekside Theatre in Lake Country.