Searching For a Half

Internationally ignored musician, Hedwig, decides to tell her life story at a concert and perhaps discover her missing half at the same time.  This is Hedwig and the Angry Inch currently playing at the Waiting Room Lounge under the auspices of Rave On Productions and is the debut performance for their Omaha Series.

This was one of the most refreshingly original shows I have viewed.  Powered by hard hitting rock songs and power ballads by Stephen Trask, John Cameron Mitchell has written a pretty deep and moving tale framed within a rock concert.  Hedwig, born Hansel, has always been searching for her missing half i.e. her soulmate.  And she has gone through a lot to find that soulmate.  From living with a mother who showed no love to enduring a botched gender reassignment surgery to escape communist East Berlin to surviving as a hooker to having her songs stolen by a lover she thought was “the one”, Hedwig has lived a fascinating, if difficult life.  The pressure seems to be finally getting to her as she feels compelled to share her life’s story and her grip on reality weakens with each passing moment until the final song when. . .well, you’ll have to see the show to find that out.

Kimberly Faith Hickman’s direction soars throughout the production.  This show has beats aplenty and Hickman knows how to hit them all as she has guided her lead actor through the myriad twists and turns of Hedwig’s emotional journey.  She clearly understood the end game of this show and knew the most interesting and correct path to get her Hedwig to that point.  I especially liked how she made certain Hedwig was always at the right emotional pitch when segueing into the musical numbers making the transitions seamless.

Jesse White has placed himself thoroughly in the running for the OEA Outstanding Actor in a Musical prize for his performance as Hedwig.  White is so natural and believable as the glam rocker.  He snaps off Hedwig’s numerous double entendres with effortless ease and gently leads the audience down Hedwig’s emotional road.  The nuance in his voice is beautiful and captures the subtlest emotion usually best exemplified with Hedwig’s cruel treatment of her husband, Yitzhak.  White never gets loud, but his delivery has a barbed nature that really ticks you off.

White also has a good knack for improvisation with his reactions to the audience, especially in his handling of a couple of boisterous audience members on a few occasions.  He’s also got a knock out, power tenor singing voice that tore the house down in numbers such as “Tear Me Down”, “Sugar Daddy”, “Wig In a Box” and “Wicked Little Town”.

I am constantly amazed by the talent of Evelyn Hill whenever she takes the stage.  Though she’s only a high school senior, she’s already built a reputation as one of Omaha’s finest musical talents.  This time her pantomime skills are on fine display in this production.  Her Yitzhak rarely speaks, but his expressions speak volumes with the utter disdain and hatred he harbors towards Hedwig for suppressing his far greater natural talent and keeping him from performing as a drag queen which he loves.  Hill even gets a few moments to wow us with her musical chops as she briefly belts out “I Will Always Love You” and takes over on “Exquisite Corpse”.

But what is a singer without a band?  Under the musical direction of Matthew McGuigan, the Angry Inch (Matthew McGuigan, Ryan McGuigan, Larell Ware, Max Meyer, Jay Hanson) shines as they superlatively rock out the score of this show.  Amanda Fehlner nails the costumes with the glam look of the Angry Inch which conjured images of Twisted Sister and the look of Hedwig who appears to be the next coming of Ziggy Stardust.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is an explosive theatrical debut for Rave On Productions and one I feel has the potential to be a big awards season darling.  If you’re ready for a night of safe, socially distanced entertainment, give this rocker a try.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays at the Waiting Room Lounge (6212 Maple St, Omaha, NE) through Feb 27. Ticket prices are $35 and can be purchased at https://www.etix.com/ticket/e/1016517/hedwig-omaha-the-waiting-room. Showtimes are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and 10pm and Sundays at 7pm. Due to mature themes and language, this show is not suitable for children.

Don’t Stop Them Now

From L to R: Jonathan Berger, Evelyn Hill, Jesse White (back row), Eric Perlstein, Brittney Thompson, Ejanae Hume

Look!  Up on the stage!  It’s a chord!  It’s a bard!  No, it’s Don’t Stop Me Now!  A Celebration of Rock Musicals.  This joint production between Rave On Productions and the Omaha Community Playhouse is currently playing in the Storz Parking Lot at OCP.

This rollicking revue of rock musicals is a rather ambitious production and hits the right notes (pun intended) for the most part.  Rave On and OCP give the audience a potpourri of tunes ranging from hard rockers to soft ballads to some pretty emotional works.  I especially enjoyed the fact that not only were classic well-known numbers and shows utilized, but they also selected songs from lesser known productions which really spiced up the evening.

Kimberly Faith Hickman’s direction brought some fun theatricality to the night while Matthew McGuigan’s musical direction was utterly flawless.  He and his band were in fine fettle as they played with a rich gusto and energy that gave the songs a familiar feel, but imbued them with a unique vibrancy.

The show is blessed with a talented troupe of troubadours who each get their moments in the sun and occasionally blend in glorious harmony.  Some shining moments were Brittney Thompson’s rendition of the power ballad “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls and Ejanae Hume’s killer take on “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent.  Eric Perlstein kicked things off with the sonorous “Heaven On Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar, gave us a little Four Seasons with “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), but his shining moment was his interpretation of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” from American Idiot with his sensational, soulful emoting.  Jonathan Berger’s lower tenor got to glow with Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” and “Tear Me Down” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

But in a group of standout performers, Evelyn Hill and Jesse White really stole the show.  Hill is a worthy successor to Brenda Lee’s moniker of Little Miss Dynamite as her talent is explosive.  Hill threw herself into her numbers and stunned with performances including a high powered rendition of ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” and her half of “Suddenly, Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors

White is a performer’s performer with his own animated performances.  His tenor is both soaring and searing as he tore through the night outdoing Frankie Valli’s falsetto in “Sherry”, was shyly comforting in his half of “Suddenly, Seymour”, nailed David Bowie’s “Changes” from Lazarus to the floor, and capped the night with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

But the night’s capstone number came from Ryan McGuigan with his tragically haunting version of “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar.  Aside from his formidable musical chops, McGuigan brought a little top notch acting as he was shedding real tears by the end of the song and if you can listen to it without your soul stirring, then you probably don’t have one.

But I can’t end this review without mentioning the splendid work of Jim Boggess who hosted the festivities.  His wit, warmth, and humor really enhanced the night and his introduction of each number was a real aid for those who may not be familiar with each song and show.

There were some moments of singers not having enough breath for certain notes and numbers that were fine technically, but needed a bit more commitment to bring them to that next level, but these were minor quibbles in a thoroughly entertaining night.

It’s a rocking good time and a pleasant, and socially distant, way to get out and have some fun.  Take a break from these strange times and get a ticket to see this one before it’s too late.

Don’t Stop Me Now! A Celebration of Rock Musicals plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Sept 20. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7pm and Sundays at 6pm. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased online at www.omahaplayhouse.com or by phone at 402-553-0800.  This is a cashless event and reservations are required.  CDC guidelines are being followed and parking spaces will be assigned upon arrival.  Please do not arrive earlier than 60 minutes before showtime.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Zach Wagner Photography