Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Directed by Penelope Corrin
Starring Seth Drabinsky
By Daina Valiulis
Yep, it’s that Debbie Does Dallas. One of the highest grossing porn flicks from 1978 about a gaggle of high school cheerleaders who accidentally sell sex to realize their dream of going to Dallas in support of Debbie Benton (Jamie Robinson), cheer captain, who has made it as a Dallas Cowgirl. The plots of porn titles are flimsy at best and yet for some reason, this one is considered to have one of the most fully-realized plots. Fortunately with porn, once it has done its job, you can turn it off. Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, despite what you might think, doesn’t push the envelope very far in any direction, making it a confused muddle that happens to feature some good singers.
In her notes, director Penelope Corrin compares Debbie to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata: both heroines use sex to stand up for causes they believe in. Unfortunately, Debbie offers a bunch of performers messily running about the stage simulating sexual acts and not much else. The show is so campy and tongue-in-cheek that when Debbie continually breaks out of the story to sing ballads about her moral issues, it gets a bit confusing. The songs that work are the goofy ones, such as the song about getting off with a candle. Trying to balance gratuity with serious questions about the price of Debbie’s ultimate dream didn’t work.
Further confusion arises when Robinson breaks character near the show’s end, stating she has moral issues with the show. As she’s told performing will make her a huge star, she happily continues, again trying to throw meaning into something that is so strongly kitschy that it doesn’t make much sense.
You’d think that a musical based on pornography would push the envelope to the max in this direction. This production does not have that to recommend it, so when one of the characters breaks out to conclude with Puck’s “If we shadows have offended…” speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, again, it is unwarranted and irritatingly nonsensical.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, however, is well worth seeing. Written by John Cameron Mitchell (who performed Hedwig in the original production in New York and also in the film version) with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, this almost one-man show is the story of a performer who escapes Germany in the 80s after a botched sex change operation, and now searches for her other half. After a lot of heartbreak and misery, Hedwig finds herself.
Beautifully performed by Seth Drabinsky as Hedwig with strong supporting work by L.A. Lopes as Yitzhak, this show rides the tides of the highs and lows Hedwig experiences with grace and fierce, angst-ridden energy. “The Vicious Guns” (Jenny MacIsaac, Richard Haydon, Jeremy Knowles and Greg Gibson) are the supporting band, recommended by John Cameron Mitchell himself and they are excellent.
While Debbie fails, mostly because the musical itself is weak, Hedwig soars, stronger than the two by far and marking a mixed review of a first venture in independent theatre by Ghost Light Projects.