For a shy  guy from Perth, local muso Iota channels the  essence of a larger than life transsexual personality with uncanny  finesse. Playing the title character in this glam-rock fuelled tale of  gender identity he’s back on stage for an encore season of one of 2006’s  biggest success stories.

Hedwig  begins life as Hansel, an effeminate young Berliner growing up in communist East  Germany. Catching the amorous attention  of a visiting GI he makes a break for the USA, and  the apparent freedom of the west. What follows is a botched sex change  operation, (the “angry inch” of the play’s title) a name change and a  convoluted journey of self-exploration told via stunning musical theatre.

Live  performance gains a repeat audience through clever dialogue and  storylines, and this tale has both in abundance. Add to that a stellar  backing performance from rising star Saskia Smith (playing Yitzhak – a  drag king to Hedwig’s Queen), a tight backing band and clever choreography  and you have the kind of show you’ll be reminiscing about in ten years  time. Not to be missed.


















This show is a revelation and its lead, a one-man revolution. Local indie musician iOTA has a handful of solo albums to his name, but judging by his return Sydney performance as the titular character, he's just carved a new career as a musical theatre star.

Having won the Sydney Theatre Judith Johnson Award for Best Performance in a Musical for this role last year, iOTA proved why last Thursday.
He comes on stage in a big cape and proceeds to tell a story with song and spoken word.

iOTA relates how Hedwig began life as a boy named Hansel in East Berlin. His ticket out was marrying an American GI -- but that involves a problematic sex change stranding her somewhere between man and woman.

Hedwig moves to the US, gets divorced and establishes a career as a performer with her boyfriend, Tommy Gnosis. Gnosis dumps her, leaving Hedwig playing lesser venues with The Angry Inch, while he rocks stadiums.

iOTA's encapsulation of Hedwig is total, with flamboyance, bitchy one-liners and a great line in overwrought pathos.

Backed by a tight band and flanked by latest husband, the hapless Yitzhak (played and sung superbly by silver-tongued Saskia Smith), Hedwig is a force of nature. She writhes, howls, trills and weeps. The passion of this rock musical role quickly leaves iOTA in a lather of sweat, with make-up flowing freely down his face. It's a bizarre story but iOTA's performance is so riveting that the emotional core of the piece leaps into the foreground.

The tough, opening-night crowd was eating out of his hand.



















AFTER its success last year, a huge buzz surrounded the opening of the rock musical Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

Would the show live up to the hype? The answer is a resounding yes. Hedwig rocks!
Created off-Broadway, then turned into a cult film, it's the story of Hansel (played by iOTA), a "girly-boy" from East Berlin who has a sex change to escape to the West with a GI.

But a botched operation leaves Hansel in a sexual no-man's land.

We meet Hedwig, as he's now called, performing with his/her band in a seedy club, while next door, Tommy, an ex-lover who stole her heart and songs, performs in a stadium.

Philosophical musings about the search for your other half underpin the story. But first and foremost, Hedwig, with its feisty mix of rock, drag and stand-up, is high-voltage theatrical fun.

This kind of show lives ordies by its central performance, and iOTA's is a tour de force.

Ballsy, camp, in yer face and ultimately deeply moving, he has a stunning voice and such charisma you can't take your eyes off him.

He has great support but the night belongs to iOTA.





















HERE'S Hedwig, again, still the mere slip of a girly boy from East Germany, still the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you. And still, courtesy of iOTA's stunning performance in the title role, a top-class band (musical director Tina Harris), Stephen Hawker's lights, Nicholas Dare's design and Craig Ilott's direction, the most entertaining, interesting and compellingly fun piece of rock'n'roll musical theatre in yonks.

It's a deeply unlikely, and unusually deep, work of musical brilliance. John Cameron Mitchell's text is, at base, the narrative of a former Eastern Bloc aspirational trannie in search of love, escape and fame in all the standard wrong places. Much has been made of the show's apparent bravery in rocking out while referencing platonic ideas of gender origins. It's also culturally savvy enough to bookend that with the more pervasive Christian gender myth, as sourced through Hedwig's hoped for, but ultimately wrong, matching half, the American teen rocker, plagiarist and military brat.

Hedwig's real platonic complement is Yitzhak (Saskia Smith, who replaces Blazey Best in the part). Smith sings wonderfully and develops a different, spikier and more adolescent physicality in the mostly silent role. Her punkish rocking out during Wig in a Box (the show's singalong party piece) nicely sets up the work's most important emotional tag, about the gift of fake hair as essential metaphor for eventual acceptance of bothself and other.

Despite the easy, narrated hilarity of dilated openings, like most of its genre it's about love lost, hoped for and rediscovered. It also plays with drag convention - the wig is removed and the make-up wiped, but not as simple gender revelation.

Stephen Trask's superb score references widely (anthemic rock, Bowie-esque glam, Stooges pre-punk and even country, among others) but there's not a bad song in it. iOTA's performance has grown since the production's seasons in Katoomba and Newtown - there's the confidence of experience, and a welcome relaxation that gives the show's emotional arc necessary space. Despite the character's parodic set-up it's a genuine and affecting emotional journey.

Musical theatre often labours under the self-embraced cliche that it's comfortable, mindless relaxation for those who like those kind of things. Hedwig embraces the best of the form while recasting it in newish, better and rockier drag. What's the point of an opening, or a horizon, if it can't be stretched?


















In the theatre world, many are drawn to the fictional role of transsexual rock star Hedwig, she of the parted blonde bouffant who sacrificed her penis in East Germany just before the Berlin Wall tumbled down to become a "slip of a girly boy", led by the promise of freedom in the United States.

But so gruelling is the lead role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch - the measurement is a reference to what the botched gender-reassignment surgery left behind - most actors play the character, created and originally performed by New York actor John Cameron Mitchell, for only a season or so.

West Australian-born, Sydney-based performer iOTA is now reprising his turn as Hedwig, a role he first performed last year, for Mardi Gras. But the 38-year-old is unsure whether he'd have a third crack at the role.

"She sort of takes over your life," says iOTA, whose own appearance is a little more grunge than Hedwig's neo-glam, post-punk heavy make-up look. He's recently dyed his dark hair blond and sports piercings in his ears and on his lips and nose.

"While doing the role for such a long time I noticed myself being quite depressed during the day. Just churning out those words. I don't think it's the healthiest state of mind to be in.

"As an actor, you have to believe what you're saying and show everyone you really mean it. You've got to think of something awful that's happened to you. That's how you make those tears come.

"Just saying all the things she says and all the things she believes, you do start to think and behave like her. It makes you question everything you're saying, your life and your relationships.

"I'd have a very Hedwig way of finishing the show: I'd leave on my own, out the back door, go and get a few beers and sit in my hotel room and drink. It's awful. But if you had friends over you'd just be whingeing to them about it," he says.

The left-of-centre off-Broadway production, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, opened at New York's Jane Street Theatre in 1998. At first, producers couldn't give tickets away. Gradually, however, the show became a cult hit, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show; the kind of production fanatics boast of seeing 100, 200, even 400 times.

For all its playful subversiveness, its toying with the idea of what is male and female, Hedwig's tone is poignant, although its meaning and its ending are open to interpretation. For this return Sydney season, Saskia Smith joins the cast as Hedwig's sidekick Yitzhak.

John Cameron Mitchell, who also played and directed himself in the 2001 film version, has said: "The ultimate sadness of it is you think you have found this person [to love, but] you never really will unite with them. I wanted Hedwig to be a walking metaphor for this myth."

iOTA has his own longer-established parallel singing and songwriting career, with a new CD, Beauty Queen of the Sea, released in October last year. At 23, he moved from country Western Australia ("cows, sheep, train tracks, very boring") to Sydney and at 26 he came out as gay. He had a rough time growing up, he says, mainly because he put on a rough and rowdy act to conceal his sexuality. Suffice to say, he rarely goes back.





















25 JANUARY 2007

Rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch floored the critics when it opened last year, starring Sydney singer iOTA.

After winning the Best Production of a Musical and Best Performance in a Musical for iOTA at the Sydney Theatre Awards this month, the show is set to reopen at Tom Mann Theatre, Surry Hills, next week.

Hedwig is an East German boy who escapes the Iron Curtain via a gender reassignment and marriage to an American GI. After the marriage collapses, Hedwig tours the US with her punk band, following her rock-god former boyfriend who has stolen her songs.

The show began life as an off-Broadway musical before it was adapted for the screen by the original writer, John Cameron Mitchell, who also starred in the title role.

Stephen Trask's music and lyrics helped propel Hedwig into the realm of cult phenomenon. When the show opened in Sydney last year, critics could barely summon the superlatives to express their overwhelming adoration for the show and its local star.

From the first rehearsals, the cast knew they had a good show on their hands, according to musical director Tina Harris, who also oversaw the return London season.

"We aimed for an in-your-face juicy fat rock gig sound," Ms Harris said.

"This is not musical theatre; it has the impact of a rock gig with a mix of cabaret and stand-up.

"The music has really evolved since we began. "

The band has also aimed to match the energy of the show's star, iOTA, she said.

"We knew he had musical intensity and vocal range and musicality but at the time, he had no training as an actor. The director (Craig Ilott) and choreographer (Ross Coleman) really brought it out of him."

















A GLAM rock show at Melbourne's Athenaeum Theatre has been a high-voltage hit with its rock 'n' roll and high-heel kicking.
However, Hedwig and the Angry Inch has only tomorrow to run.

Written by John Mitchell and Stephan Trask, the show follows trans-gendered Hansel, whose need to escape from East Berlin can only happen via a sex change operation and marriage to an American GI.

Hansel becomes Hedwig, develops anger-management issues and explores themes of bittersweet regret, disappointment and the strength to survive.

The Australian adaptation, produced by David Hawkins and starring ARIA-nominated iOTA and Blazey Best, delivers vulnerable and gritty performances.

Boasting a Grammy nomination, productions in seven countries and a feature film, the story weaves an entertaining tapestry of loneliness, love and stardom.



















"HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH tells the story of Hedwig Schmidt, the unfortunate victim of a gruesomely botched sex-change operation, and an "internationally ignored song-stylist". Her journey to find true love, "her other half", is a rock and roll odyssey which leads her across the Berlin Wall, across the world, and from man to woman.

Having seen the film version a little while ago and totally  falling in love with John Cameron Mitchell's performance, I totally  didn't know what to expect from a production company I'd never heard  of... and who is this iOTA guy anyway? Well it turns out that this  iOTA guy is a 5 time ARIA Award winner, and has several albums under  his belt. So he's not just a willy nilly first time actor.

From the moment iOTA opened his mouth, I knew he was perfect for  the role.

He acted with strength and humility. His Hedwig is both hilarious  and also vulnerable. He really nailed the role. For those of you who  don't know what the show's about, here's a brief run-down: "HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH tells the story of Hedwig Schmidt, the  unfortunate victim of a gruesomely botched sex-change operation, and  an "internationally ignored song-stylist". Her journey to find true  love, "her other half", is a rock and roll odyssey which leads her  across the Berlin Wall, across the world, and from man to woman.

Hedwig begins her journey as Hansel, a young boy growing up in  Germany under a Stalinesque regime, and the equally strict regime of  his mother. He finds what he believes to be an escape from his  dreary existence in the form of a handsome "sugar daddy" – an  American G.I. named Luther, who promises to take him away from  Germany. The caveat, however, is that Luther can only take a bride  back to America. Desperate to escape his situation, Hansel willingly  agrees to a sex-change operation – an operation which is botched,  leaving Hedwig with a one-inch reminder of her past.

Abandoned by her husband, living a down-and-out existence in  America, Hedwig's journey to find her other half seems to have  ground to a halt.

Having fallen in love again, this time with Tommy Gnosis, who  leaves her when he becomes a Rock and Roll Superstar, Hedwig takes  stock of her situation and forms her own band: The Angry Inch."  So we get the stage show Hedwig and the Angry Inch where Ms Hedwig  is giving a concert to a "crowd of 3 or 4" but its the way iOTA  milks the pathos of this role that really gets me. Also the music is  amazing. It's definitely a rock show. Very grungy and bassy. My  brother, who's a massive metal head loves the soundtrack... and he  HATES musicals!

The supporting cast is equally as amazing. Blazey Best is an  established actor and although she's never sung before, her  gender-bending turn as Yitzhak, Hedwig's "man Thursday thru Friday,"  is equally as impressive and her vocals are to die for. The band, on  stage for the entire show, make up "The Angry Inch" musically  directed by Tina Harris. They really crank up the atmosphere and are  very impressive musicians.

It's running in Melbourne until the 1st October at this stage so  call ticketmaster and book! It deserves every accolade, award and  ovation it gets! For now though, I'm off to see the show for the  third time in just over a week.  

















There's a point early in this cult rock musical when you begin to suspect you're about to be subjected to 90 minutes of bad drag-queen humour, the likes of which you can find in any second-rate establishment on Commercial Rd most nights.
Thankfully, the frail double-entendres are dispensed with quickly as the humour becomes darker and the rock 'n' roll kickes in.
Once upon a time, Hedwig was Hansel, a good little boy from East Berlin. But a botched sex-change operation leaves Hedwig with an "angry inch" of penis - and no vagina.
Hedwig is betrayed by almost every important person in her life, from her mother to the teen who steals her songs and rockets to stardom.
There's plenty of humour, but a lot of pathos too. his is no laugh-a-minute drag show, but a finely nuanced tale that explores the mysteries of human identity and struggles we face to be ourselves.
Anchoring this Australian production of the award-winning off-Broadway smash (it's also been turned into a movie) is an astounding performance by Iota.
His mesmerising stage presence is matched by a soaring voice and an ability to beautifully capture Hedwig's intrinsic vulnerability.
Some terrific glam-rock tunes, great musos on stage and an excellent support performance from Blazey Best round out one of the most entertaining and original pieces of musical theatre around.



















A botched sex-change operation may seem an unlikely subject for a musical, but in this riveting production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, it provides the catalyst for a star-quality performance, and a brilliant and unusual theatre experience, which is a triumph for its producer David Hawkins and his savvy production team.

First conceived in 1994 as a one-man, off-Broadway musical, evolving into an award-winning cult film and then back to the stage in this off-Broadway Sydney production, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is centred around the performance of a bitchy and broken transsexual named Hedwig, and her futile quest for fulfilment.

As she begins her act in a seedy rock club, we discover from Hedwig that, before the fall of the Berlin wall, she had previously been a girly boy, Hansel Schmidt. Hansel caught the eye of lustful American soldier, Luther who persuaded him to submit to a backyard sex-change in order to migrate to America. The operation is botched and Hansel, now rechristened Hedwig, is left with an angry inch-long stump.

Abandoned by Luther in a Kansas caravan park, Hedwig turns tricks to survive, until she meets her “other half”, a young singer-guitarist, Tommy Speck, with whom she shares her heart and her songs. When the relationship turns physical, Tommy discovers “the angry inch” and deserts her. He also steals her songs, which he claims for his own, and becomes a stadium sensation. He is, we learn, performing in the adjoining venue.

The production is brilliantly directed by Craig Ilott, who has elicited an extraordinary tour-de-force performance from lead actor “iOTA”, an artist with an impressive recording career, but, remarkably, appearing in his first stage role. In a performance reminiscent of the young Reg Livermore in his Betty Blokk-Buster days, iOTA turns what could have been tacky drag into a sensationally uninhibited, no-holds-barred, multi-faceted performance. It’s wonderfully droll and bitchy at first, but truthful and deeply moving towards the end of the show, when Hedwig strips away her garish blonde wig and makeup, and the audience begins to realise the hopeless despair of her situation.

Sharing the stage with Hedwig, though preferring the peripheral shadows, providing back-up vocals, and bearing the brunt of Hedwig’s constant abuse and humiliations, Blazey Best is unrecognisable as the sulky, pathetically loyal, gender-ambivalent Yitzhak. She also gives a memorable performance which is not only dramatically interesting but ultimately very moving.

Despite the modesty of its scale, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” boasts excellent production values, including striking sets and costumes designed by Nicholas Dare, excellent sound and lighting from Stephen Hawker and a gutsy on-stage backing band led by musical director, Tina Harrison.

Though it has already closed in Sydney, should you be planning a trip to Melbourne after September 9, put this show on your “must-see” list, not only for the remarkable performances of iOTA and Blazey Best, but because it is hugely entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking.




















Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of the few musicals that can aptly be described as a cult phenomenon. Devotees flock to the film version in New York dressed in imitation of their idol, in much the same way the Transylvanian crowd used to gather to celebrate The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Like Rocky Horror, Hedwig is a flamboyant and subversive rock musical spearheaded by a glamorous misfit.

Hedwig is the ultimate outsider - an East German boy who pays a steep price for escaping to the West in the form of a botched sex-change operation. Soon down and out among US trailer trash, Hedwig reinvents herself as an underrated rock diva. Eventually, she helps create Tommy Gnosis - a lover who feeds off her talent, rejects her advances, and goes on to become a superstar.

Playing Hedwig requires huge charisma, and no small amount of gumption. Creator John Mitchell Cameron built the character up at various New York drag venues before his inimitable portrayal in the original stage show and award-winning movie. He left a very large wig to fill.

Luckily, home-grown rock artist iOTA has the voice and the presence to fill it. It took a song or two to crank up the engine - the first 10 minutes of stand-up was a little shaky and his accent wobbled - but once he revved up there was no looking back.

A live performance powerhouse, iOTA delivers 90 minutes of high-adrenaline hooning along the rock'n'roll superhighway. Hold onto your seats.

The songs range from the rock balladeering of The Origin Of Love and the rock/country fusion of Sugar Daddy to thrashier numbers. iOTA is on top of them all, displaying prodigious vocal strength and pouring limitless energy into Ross Coleman's high-impact choreography.

As the oppressed former drag queen Yitzhak, Blazey Best is deceptively masculine, providing accomplished backing vocals and powering through her solo. The band, led by musical director Tina Harris, really let it rip, and the lighting is measured in megawatts.

Indeed, this production plays up the rock concert angle at a slight expense to storyline, but fans of the movie need not fear disappointment. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is an enthralling live show - the vast talents of its star will rock your socks off.


















After four years in the planning, this week finally sees the long-awaited theatrical premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Tomorrow, the character critics describe as the love child of Marlene Dietrich and Ziggy Stardust, will burst onto the Melbourne stage for a three-week run at Melbourne's famous Athenaeum Theatre.

According to producer David Hawkins who worked for four years to bring Hedwig to the Australian audiences, the pedigree for Hedwig is extraordinary.

"Fans have been clamouring for an Australian season and they haven't been disappointed," says Hawkins, adding, "Our cast and production will blow people's minds."

Hedwig and The Angry Inch is a rock 'n' roll odyssey that tells the story of a boy (Hansel) from East Berlin boy who plans his escape (pre wall coming down) to the west via a marriage to an American GI called Luther. With his mother's blessing, Hansel undergoes gender reassignment only to have the operation botched ­ hence his anger over the remaining inch.

The Melbourne season follows a successful regional tour (familiar and comfortable territory for Hedwig) and a sell-out tour of Sydney.

The coveted role of Hedwig in the Australian production went to relative newcomer, iOta, who first surfaced on the Australian music scene in 1999 with his debut album, The HipBone Collection. Critics describe his voice as "riveting" and consequently he has built a cult following.

When pressed to describe the show, iOta, a self-described Krisy Kreme devotee said he had a feeling the Melbourne show, "may just rock."


















21 AUGUST 2006

Let's cut to the chase. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the most exciting piece of music theatre to hit Sydney in years and is shaping up as one of 2006's essential theatre experiences. Miss this and you'll be sorry.

Hedwig evolved as a one-man, off-Broadway musical in 1994 and became a hit for its creator and star John Cameron Mitchell. It was - and still is - one of the most unusual musicals around. Equal parts rock gig, cabaret confessional and drag act, it broke the mould. It also set a new direction musically. There's no pit band, no grand piano. Instead, composer Stephen Trask (of New York cult band Girls Against Boys) penned a set of 10 songs designed to be played at gig volume by a real rock'n'roll band on stage. It's in between these songs that Hedwig (played here by Sydney singer iOTA) tells of her struggle, her longing for completeness.

Years ago, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, young Hansel Schmidt, a "slip of a girly boy", catches the roving eye of a lusty American serviceman. Love blossoms, but in order to migrate to America with his lover, Hansel must submit to a backyard sex change. The operation is botched, and Hansel, rechristened Hedwig, is left with an angry, inch-long stump, a reminder of the boy she used to be.

And that's not the end of her troubles. Abandoned in a Kansas trailer park, Hedwig turns tricks to get by until she scores a babysitting gig. It's there that she meets her "other half", god-bothering teenager Tommy Speck. Together they make beautiful music. But when the relationship takes a physical turn and Tommy discovers the "angry inch", he runs out on her. Worse still, he claims her songs as his own and becomes a stadium rock sensation.

Mitchell's Jerry Springer-worthy script unfolds in a wonderfully droll, bitchy way. But this is more than just a snappy drag act. Given the inch, iOTA takes the mile.

The show is brazenly alive from the get go, so much so that, for the 90-odd minutes Hedwig is on stage, this bizarre construct in a Farrah Fawcett fright wig seems completely believable. As a singer, iOTA's versatility and vocal strength are never in doubt. Well supported by an unrecognisable Blazey Best (playing Hedwig's gender-blurred offsider, Yitzak) and a pounding band led by Tina Harris, he tears through Stooges-influenced punk ( Angry Inch), channels Young Americans-era David Bowie ( Tear Me Down), and delivers a sweet cabaret lullaby in The Origin Of Love. It's a remarkable performance. Even more so when you consider that this is his first major stage role.

If you hate musicals, Hedwig is the musical for you.













17 AUGUST 2006

Not for a long time, if ever, has there been a musical like Hedwig and the Angry Inch at @ the Newtown! The glamorous Australian production of the GLBT cult classic of the same name is an audacious, flamboyant, electric, and humorous adaptation of the original show by writer/director/star/busy-bee John Cameron Mitchell that glittered the imagination of Broadway’s audiences for years and turned into a giant film-cash cow sensation.

The Sydney productions biggest challenge was to make Hedwig stand out from the film and make the Angry Inch it’s own. With a combination of beautiful tortured vocals from singer aussie-rock-bunny iOTA, a personalised script, and some rock’n riff’s that’s what they did.

Hedwig, played by iOTA, had the audience captivated from beginning to end. Although this was his first gig as an ‘actor’ he played the Newtown with the kind of intimate, assured and marvellous, disbanding approach that Hedwig’s character exudes. His ability to bring emotion and life to the songs ballads seemed to bring a personal anguish to the show, flaunting Hedwig’s turbulent past, and the Angry Inch was well implied. The band also matched his energy and nailed the songs consistently.

iOTA carried the jokes, sang the notes and when his fake lashes fell off, he went with the punches, like a good little star. In the 85minutes it took to run smoothly through the narrative, taking the audience through Hedwig’s first love, the mutilating operation, the hurtful betrayal’s, her tormented ‘front side’ the audience was left convinced of Hedwig’s talent, feeling Hedwig’s driving desire to have the recognition he deserves.Along with a rocking band, the show brought life and chic to the opera-glam punk numbers, making the crowd holler to tracks like “Angry Inch” and sob to the beautiful “origin of Love”. No surprise then the Hedwig crew received a standing ovation for the beautifully executed performance they created, all for the privacy of the crowd gathered at Newtown. The show is defiantly worth all the attention it receives, it’s better than a bucket of boneless fried chicken! I’m not joking! iOTA has set the seeds for a sweet legacy all on its own, Hedwig at @Newtown is finger-licking-good!


















15 AUGUST 2006

Hedwig began as an off-broadway musical and then in 2001 was made into a movie, acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. For those not familiar with the story, here you go: Hansel, a boy living in East Berlin, dreams of a life in the west. He meets an American GI who falls in love with him. Hansel has the snip, takes his mother’s name Hedwig and rides off into the Western sunset. The snip however wasn’t quite snippy enough and Hedwig is left with a most unfortunate fleshy inch. When her western dream becomes a trailer park tragedy Hedwig starts a band, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. She then falls in love with a boy. They write songs together, he up and becomes a rock start, Tommy Gnosis and leaves our heart broken Hedwig.

Now we’re all up to speed, is this debut Australian production any good? In a word, oh okay, in eleven words, it’s one of the best productions of any show I’ve seen! From the stage set, to the lighting, to the costume design, to every cast member, Aussie Hedwig is top shelf stuff. Sydney singer/song writer iOTA plays the lead and might as well have been born with Hedwig’s high hair and fuck-me boots on. How so much talent squeezed into that dress, truly defies belief! Just a word of warning; when the humor has you on the floor, you might as well stay there because the songs will knock you right off your chair again.

I must say I’m rarely so moved as to leap out of my seat for ovations. If I do it’s usually more to do with an actual physical pain in my ass rather than any emotional stirring from what I might have been watching. But I shot up from my seat, even before it was probably appropriate to do so. It was out of control, it was down to complete and utter elevation at what I had just experienced. Aussie Hedwig isn’t a musical, it’s a rock extravaganza. There’s only one thing you have to do: See it! See it! See it!

















15 AUGUST 2006

CHITA Rivera likes to joke that she's about 40 years old, but given the shape her legs are in, she could probably get away with claiming to be 30. Broadway, where Rivera made her debut in 1950 at the age of 17 (do the calculations yourself), has been kind toher.

 And she's been good for Broadway. She was Anita in the original production of West Side Story, Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie opposite Dick Van Dyke, the first Velma Kelly in Chicago and the star of Kiss of the Spider Woman among many, many other shows. Her name is so big in musical theatre that Terrence McNally recently wrote a Broadway show for her and about her: The Dancer's Life, described in The New York Times as the "must-have ticket for aficionados of the American musical".

So she's still got it, and in some ways it's a surprise to find her appearing in a couple of small venues in Sydney and Melbourne with just a trio backing her. Debbie Reynolds, after all, was filling out the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House just days before Rivera opened in The Studio, which is as small as it sounds.

The power of film versus stage plays a part, no doubt, but it's also a tribute to Rivera's obvious desire to connect closely with an audience, and the audience on the opening night last Saturday adored her.

Rivera has a wealth of great material to choose from and she moves through it at speed; possibly too much speed, as her set lasts just one hour.

A warm, self-deprecating raconteur and still an enviably sassy mover, Rivera fared best vocally at the extremes of big numbers and quiet ones. The middle ground was muddied by a sound mix that - at least where I was sitting, close to the stage - pushed the bass way too far forward and was at a volume that did Rivera no service.

George and Ira Gershwin's Our Love is Here to Stay, sung to piano accompaniment with an intimate, breathy tone and the wisdom of age, and the brassy All That Jazz, from Chicago, were exemplary.

Not far away from the Opera House geographically but light years away in style, @Newtown showcases another diva, iOTA, who is electrifying audiences in the super-grungy rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The "internationally ignored" vocalist only wants what everyone does: love, acceptance and worldwide fame. A poorly executed sex-change operation complicates matters for Hedwig, who was born Hansel in East Berlin. To make matters worse, she has been abandoned by her lover - the lover she turned into a rock star, thank you very much - and is now living in a US trailer park.

John Cameron Mitchell's clever, not always entirely clear, book has serious philosophical underpinnings if you want to look for them, but there's more than enough appeal in the savagely witty, trash-talking surface and raucous rock-punk-country-ballad-whatever score.

More or less alone except for her kick-arse backing band (terrific music direction by Tina Harris; great back-up singing from Blazey Best), Hedwig holds court in a kind of confessional one-transsexual show.

We are spared no detail, all of it related with fabulous panache. For instance, when Hedwig woke up after the operation, she had a bleeding gash: "My first day as a woman and already it's that time of the month," she drawls. Atta girl, Hedwig.

But when the wound heals there's that angry inch left, both outside and in.

I can imagine another performance with more vulnerability but iOTA takes the defiant path. His indomitable Hedwig, seedily glamorous in mini-dress and truckloads of glittery lippie, is loud, proud, mouthy and very, very ballsy.


















13 AUGUST 2006

Hedwig and The Angry Inch is a bent rock musical, in the cult tradition of Rocky Horror. The audience at Sundance gave the film version a gong and last night's full house, atop @ Newtown, proffered a richly-deserved, unanimous, spontaneous ovation.  

Producer David Hawkins has turned on a treat, with his inspired casting of singer-songwriter iOTA in the lead, backed by a stupendous band. This musical icon to those in the know now shows himself to be even more than an effortlessly sublime singer: he's an almost peerless actor! It was fitting that one of the finest popular singers (Christine Anu) Australia has ever produced was looking on, as well as arguably our greatest diva since Melba, the extraordinary Paul Capsis, for iOTA would seem to be in the same rarefied class.

The first moments of H & TAI put me in mind of Barry Humphries; as iOTA, wittingly or otherwise, seemed to capture something of the cadence of 'le grande dame'. But, even moreso, I was transported, back to the future, to the inimitable Reg Livermore's 70s tranny shows; no bad thing!

Despite iOTA's magnetic presence, it was, and is, nonetheless, quite impossible not to note Blazey Best, as Yitzhak. Incredibly well-credentialled as a versatile stage and film actor, she reversed the polarity, crossing over into astonishing backup singing.

Rolling Stone said it's 'the first rock musical that truly rocks' and that it most assuredly does: from tender, poignant ballads to blitzkrieg punk stylings, you'll want to go back for more.

iOTA harnesses all the comic and tragic nuances Ms Scmidt's badly-botched sexchange op suggests.

Narrative cracks (no pun intended!) allow us to peek at pointed observations about the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall is a powerful metaphor for the divide between the search for love and its resolution: can one find one's other half?

You can pay scant attention to the songs and relish the writing in-between, or vice-versa, but, should you give your undivided attention to the synthesis, you'll, perhaps for the first time, understand how a show can live, forever, in a quiet corner of your heart.

One tires of superlative cliches where reviews are concerned; even, or especially, this reviewer. How often does one read: 'A triumph!; 'Electrifying!'? This production is both.
















20 JULY 2006

Though he maybe new to musical theatre, iOTA is no stranger to playing eccentric, queer characters. He recalls his previous theatrical venture with great fondness, when he starred in school plays penned by his drama teacher. “She was gorgeous but she was a bit religious. We did a show called JP in Reality, and JP was my character. JP stands for ‘Jesus Person’.”

So playing a lovelorn, star-crossed, German transsexual with botched genitalia in the cult musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch was never going to be a problem for iOTA. In fact, it seems it’s a role that he was meant to play.

Hedwig starts off as Hansel, a young boy desperate to escape communist East Germany. His ticket out of there is marriage to an American GI, willing to take him back to the US. The cost for this freedom? A sex change. But the surgery is bungled, leaving Hedwig with a pint-sized, one inch stub between his legs.

In America, Hedwig’s marriage quickly ends and she forms a band, The Angry Inch. She falls for a charming adolescent, Tommy, who is soon catapulted to superstardom, thanks to Hedwig’s songs. Once more, Hedwig finds herself abandoned. So, while Tommy plays to sell-out stadiums, Hedwig is reduced to performing in humble theatres. 

When Hedwig and the Angry Inch debuted in New York in 1998, it became an instant hit. Audiences and critics alike were dazzled by its unconventionality, originality and courage, with Rolling Stone proclaiming: “In the whole long, sorry history of rock musicals, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the first one that truly rocks.” It has won numerous awards and has been produced in various countries, and a screen adaptation was released in 2001.

It’s a refreshing perspective on fame and celebrity, on the side that we hardly ever see. There’s no rags-to-riches here, just rags all the way through, and it’s gritty as hell. For iOTA, it’s precisely this journey that makes Hedwig so appealing. “I feel that she’s all of us,” he says. “No one has a perfect, heavenly life – everyone has tortured moments. But we’re all resilient, and strong and that’s what’s so appealing about her. She makes us take a look at ourselves and think, ‘God, if she can do it - then I can!’ There’s a part of me that wishes she was real, and maybe she is somewhere. She’s such an inspiring character.”

But stepping into Hedwig’s high-heeled shoes was a different challenge for iOTA, who is best known as a musician. Since arriving in the Australian music scene in 1999, he has released four albums, all of them spawning hit singles, a cult following, rave reviews and ARIA nominations. His latest album, Beauty Queen of the Sea, features the rockin’ track ‘Handle On It’. Hedwig is his first plunge into theatre.

“I have always wanted to do theatre, and I did it at school and loved it,” he says. “It was a lot easier in this country to slip into a band, rather than slip into a theatre company, and that’s the path I ended up taking. But having done this, or being in the middle of it right now, kind of reminded me how important it was to me at the time. And I considered it to be a really big option for me that I never took, but here I am.”

And iOTA couldn’t have asked for a better first role, a role that he says completely blew him away when he first experienced it onscreen. “I just loved it. It was just brilliant.” Also, it’s a role that has enabled him to fulfil a childhood fantasy, a fantasy that places just as much emphasis on theatricality as it does on musicianship.

“One of the most important musical influences for me was that I was an absolutely rabid KISS fan back in the day,” he says. “My bedroom was completely covered in posters, and I had the make-up, the outfits and all that stuff. So I was running around in tights when I was eleven years old and, in a different way, there’s still that fascination with flash and glam and make-up and rock music. I love rock music … it’s the closest thing I can get to being one of the members of KISS.”

But to become Hedwig involves more than just make-up. It’s also about wigs, and heels, and frocks and the whole nine-yards of drag. How has iOTA found the nightly transformations? “I love it,” he says. “I’ve done drag before, but never to this extent nor as often. Maybe at Mardi Gras … once or twice. But I enjoy it. Let’s dress up and have fun.”

While the transition from singing songs to singing songs and acting may have come smoothly to a natural like iOTA, playing Hedwig has been unlike anything he’s experienced in his career so far. “Having to learn to dance, to sing and act and all those things, it has just been an absolute crash course in so many things for me. But it’s great, and it’s hard work, but I’m just loving it.”

And, iOTA says, you will too. “Go and get your mind blown.”



















7 JULY 2006

In the rock'n'roll musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hedwig is the "slip of a girlyboy from communist East Berlin" who is now "the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you". The Angry Inch is her backing band, and more potently the truncated penile stump left after her botched sexual realignment surgery.

"It's potentially challenging subject matter," director Craig Ilott says. "The piece itself, well, I find it delightful, but it's so weird, it's so hard for the majority of people to get a handle on."

Still, people have. It premiered in New York in 1998 and was filmed in 2001. Rolling Stone said: "In the whole long, sorry history of rock musicals, this is the first one that truly rocks." David Bowie reckoned it was "the most wholly rounded piece of rock theatre we have seen in years", an appropriate compliment given the score often references Bowie in Ziggy Stardust mode.

Hedwig escapes East Germany by marrying an American GI. Then she escapes the mid-Western trailer park where the GI left her to collaborate musically and sexually with an ambitious teenage boy.

On the night of the show we see, Hedwig and her appendages are playing a trashy venue while her ex-protege fills the stadium next door with her songs.

"There's a beautiful case for empathy in the piece and it's an extraordinarily uplifting show," Ilott says. "And f---ing funny. And it rocks."

For the Australian premiere of this two-character-plus-band show, Hedwig is played by Sydney musician Iota, and Yitzhak by Blazey Best. Best is an experienced theatre performer, but Iota is a musical-theatre virgin.

"It's exciting and it's scary," Iota says. "Sometimes I think, 'What the f--- am I doing?' and other times I think this is the best thing I've ever done.

"Mostly I'm just excited. I did an interview a couple of years ago and said before I die I want to do either Rocky Horror or Hedwig, and here I am."

The famous fishnets musical was an important influence on the young Iota.

"I'd put the album on and pretend that I was Frank-N-Furter. I liked his voice, and I could do it. I think it's one of those things that you don't realise until 20 years later and you look back and go, 'Oh f---, actually I was so into that,' and you can tell that it's done something to me.

"I liked Kiss, as well, and I kind of see that as being a similar thing: heels, make-up, tight pants, with flash and glam and fabulousness."

Not many musicals combine joyous trashiness, sexual innuendo, pumping rock songs and soaring ballads, while referencing the binary theory of love and gender from Plato's Symposium and making philosophy jokes. Hedwig mentions her "brilliant lecture on the aggressive influence of German philosophy on rock'n'roll entitled You, Kant, Always Get What You Want".

"I just want people to walk away like they've been smacked in the face," Iota says. "To just go, 'I don't know what that was but I'm going to go back, I gotta check it out again."

And the frocks for this dragfest?

Best: "I'll be wearing a brown wig. And possibly sideburns. And I'll be strapping my boobies down."

Iota: "There's quite a few wigs. I'll be completely strapped down, nipped and tucked."

Won't that be uncomfortable?

Iota: "We'll see. Next week is my first tuck, so I'll see how we go."

Iota predicts dire things if you don't come to see the show. "If you don't come, your dog will die in five days," he says with a faint hint of Hedwig's sneer. I believe him.

















29 JUNE 2006

The highly acclaimed rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is coming to Sydney. Veronica Hannon spoke with cast member, Blazey Best.

“Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, Hedwig!”

So begins the incredible-one-inch-penis musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Opening in Sydney in August, this down-and-dirty pleasure, which blew audiences away and became the coolest ticket in town during its two-year off-Broadway run, is, in fact, not a story about a needle dick (“the angry inch” is the result of a bungled sex-change operation) but rather the universal struggle to find your other half…even your dysfunctional other half, in a superficial, celebrity-obsessed modern society.

I am sitting in a friend’s apartment amicably chatting over the phone to Blazey Best, who is fresh from the first run-through of Hedwig in front of an audience. Blazey is a gorgeous actress, one of those talented performers who shift seamlessly from actor to singer to whatever is required. She got excellent notices for lead roles in productions for the Bell Shakespeare Company and The Sydney Theatre Company as well as being featured in The Wedding Band in Muriel’s Wedding. In Hedwig she’s playing “very much a supporting role”, says Best. As Yitzak, Hedwig’s green card second husband and bandmate, she’s required to give an authentic drag performance and, as Hedwig’s much abused sidekick, have enough verve to make an impact. Her character is male but was written for a woman and has always been played by an actress, on stage and by Miriam Shor in the film version.

Hedwig is played by iOTA. It could be the matchless portrayal. iOTA arrived on the Australian musical scene in 1999 with the release of his debut album, The Hip Bone Connection. He possesses a vocal range to die for, has bagged six Aria nominations and donned awesome alien pants, which are still the subject matter of fan blogs to this day. In this “tragic” love story, iOTA plays an East German transsexual and an “internationally ignored song stylist” with a backing band named after her “Barbie Doll Crotch”. She is a damaged person who was abused as a child and now is adrift as an adult. Her story is mostly told through songs. From her unhappy childhood in East Berlin and a doomed relationship with an American G.I to finding herself abandoned in a trailer park in Kansas, there is a hell of a lot of story.

Part of that story is Yitzak. So what is a nice Jewish boy doing on the worst rock tour ever, playing poorly patronised sleazy bars, right around the corner from his lover’s ex who is playing sold-out stadium shows? The ex is some Jesus freak and heck, I don’t think you can trust God botherers or anyone who claims they have returned from the dead. “This is no bizarre love triangle” says Best. “Yitzak is oppressed; he has no status in this relationship.” I could have told Yitzak to avoid rock gods, especially those who follow their mama’s shaky advice that love comes only when you find your other half, so you should embark on a search for that person. Unfortunately, that person is not Yitzak but a former geek called Tommy who dumped Hedwig when he became famous. Perhaps, like Yitzak, I’d escape by auditioning for a cruise ship tour of Rent.

“But you can’t hate Hedwig,” says Best. “iOTA as Hedwig is a total rock god. I’ve not seen anything this cool or glam on stage in 15 years… I’m supplying the harmonies and I’m watching him and inside I’m a groupie getting nasty, screaming myself hoarse.” Hedwig is a very vulnerable character under all that glam rock styling and I’m thinking it’s hard enough to find someone to share your futon when you’re relatively sane and you still manage to have all your original bits.

“Hedwig fulfils every one of my rock star fantasies,” says Best. Yitzak has his moment in the spotlight with his solo, ‘The Long Grift’. The score by Stephen Trask is deliciously eclectic: ballads, metal, punk rock… Best’s favourites are the punkish ‘Angry Inch’ and the country-bluesy ‘Sugar Daddy’. There is a little bit of the traditional in this non-traditional production; Hedwig is out there but she is still always breaking into song during a monologue.

The text is by John Cameron Mitchell; the character of Hedwig began as a drag persona. Mitchell and Trask repeatedly workshopped the original show at New York’s famed Squeezebox Club before opening off-Broadway in 1998. The show then won OBIEs and was nominated for Drama Desk Awards and Grammys. There have been productions in Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, Philippines and Iceland. The production in the UK is still running.

I suppose Hedwig brings Rocky as in Horror Picture Show to mind, but I think, apart from the guy in drag thing, comparisons won’t do this show any justice. This is just too damn special.






















29 JUNE 2006


In some of New York’s seediest drag bars in the late 1990s, a new character and a new musical were being created. Broadway actor John Cameron Mitchell was at work, researching his idea for a show about a sex-change woman who becomes a rock star.

When he felt the show was ready in early 1997, Mitchell took it back to the drag bars where he began his research and presented his show. His character was Hedwig and the show was Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

A year later, the show became a hit off-Broadway production and played for three years. The movie was released in 2001 and earned the story of Hedwig an even bigger cult audience.

An Australian production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch is finally about to take to the boards when the show opens at Katoomba’s Clarendon Theatre Restaurant before touring to Sydney for a season at @Newtown.

Producer David Hawkins calls the show “the missing link of musical theatre”, and explains: “Musical theatre was truly rocked when Hair came along, then Jesus Christ Superstar and Rocky Horror followed, and then there was this big space of nothing.”

“Then there was Hedwig, which is a show with music that pertains directly to what people are listening to on the radio.

“A lot of shows are stuck in their genres and are nothing like the pop music of the day. But Hedwig has this strong score and some of these songs have worked on the music charts elsewhere in the world. It is very now.

”The story also has a decidedly queer bent to it, as it follows the adventures of Hedwig, a young and effeminate gay man in East Berlin before the Wall comes down.

Determined to escape the oppressive society, he has a sex change so he can marry an American soldier and begin a new life in the US.

But the sex change operation is a botched affair, leaving Hedwig with an inch she is angry about. And when her soldier husband abandons her, she finally summons the courage to follow her dream and become a rock star.

“The story is totally ambiguous and nuts, and is about identifying with being an outcast,” Hawkins says. “It really is a thinking man’s musical and is open to so many interpretations. I see it as a story of trying to find your other half, be that a person or your work. It is a story of a journey.

”The show stars ARIA-nominated singer iota, pictured, in the lead role of Hedwig, with Blazey Best as Yitzhak. Craig Iliott is director of the Australian production.

IOTA, who makes his acting debut in the show, believes the story of Hedwig has universal appeal. “Hedwig is a bit of everyone and everything, and a reflection of all of us,” he says.

“She’s been mutilated and fucked over, and she’s angry about the way life has treated her.

“But she’s fabulous and talented, and gets through it all. I think most people can relate to that and know what it’s like to be out looking for love.”