2 min

Grand bland

This glam rock is offered up with a distancing wink

NOT SO ANGRY. Ted Dykstra plays a glam goddess in a pretty straight production. Credit: Michael Cooper

The Amazonian singer struts across the stage and, in 90 furious minutes of music and monologue, tells her tragic life story.

She was born male, an effete East Berlin boy named Hansel, in the waning days of the cold war. In the dreary apartment he shared with his aloof single mother, young Hansel listened to US rock-and-roll and dreamed of love and escape to the west.

Both arrive in the form of a US soldier who tells Hansel he’ll marry him and bring him to the US, if he undergoes a sex change operation. He reluctantly agrees, only to have the surgeon screw up, leaving the newly christened Hedwig, with only an angry inch of useless genitalia.

Soon after, the Berlin Wall comes down and Hedwig finds herself divorced and living in a trailer park in Kansas, turning tricks and singing in dives. She takes a pimply young boy as her lover and protégé, writing music for him and renaming him Tommy Gnosis. His career takes off and he leaves her. And while she performs in this sleazy club, sharing this tale of woe, Tommy is playing the sold-out stadium next door.

The highly original, monumentally compelling creation of writer-actor John Cameron Mitchell and musician-songwriter Stephen Trask debuted off-Broadway in 1998 to huge acclaim. It’s since been mounted throughout the US, in Germany and England. (The film version, featuring the original cast, won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award. It opens the Inside Out fest.)

In Toronto, Ted Dykstra (Two Pianos, Four Hands) takes on the role of Hedwig; her back-up singer and whipping boy Yitzak is played by Selina Martin and ex-Pursuit Of Happiness lead singer Moe Berg heads up the Angry Inch band.

All the elements are in place for a great show: potent monologues, a terrifically talented cast and, with the exception of a couple syrupy ballads, some pretty powerful music. Glimmers of the force of the original remain – the band is tight and Dykstra has a fantastic voice and a deliciously deadpan Teutonic delivery.

So why is the Toronto production so flat? For one thing, director Jim Millan plays it too straight – is he uneasy with the material? Instead of embracing Hedwig in all its messy, gritty, glam-rock glory, the production delivers it with a distancing wink.

And where’s the choreography? Dykstra stalks about the stage without an iota of grace, while the band barely moves at all.

What should be a trashy tour-de-force is watered down to an occasionally inspired, but too often tired, tip-toe on the wild side.

Hedwig And The Angry Inch continues for an indefinite run at the Bathurst Street Theatre (736 Bathurst St); call (416) 872-1111.