As the transsexual former East German military bride-turned-"song stylist" Hedwig, Papa Peaches roamed the AllWays Lounge's tiny stage, aisles and bar top in an energetic production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The show added performers not called for in the original script, and at times the production seemed like a community celebration.
In fact, director Dennis Monn staged Hedwig on the eighth anniversary of his running the Marigny bar, and Hedwig creator and original star John Cameron Mitchell attended a couple of shows and served as DJ for an post-show party Feb. 4.
Hedwig is a rock musical that at times is more like a cabaret show, with Hedwig recounting his bizarre biography in a hushed voice. He was born in East Germany to an emotionally distant mother and visiting serviceman father. While growing up, he got hooked on the music of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie while listening to Armed Forces Radio. Hedwig always felt lost between genders, and the opportunity to marry a U.S. serviceman began a strange odyssey that left him living alone in a trailer in the Mid-west, where he finally got his breakthrough as a singer — collaborating with a teenage boy with whom he fell in love.
In the present, Hedwig neglects a new performing partner, Yitzhak (Sultan), and the story is full of absurdity, glib asides and dark humor, including Holocaust jokes. But Hedwig's humility and his search for pop stardom, love and acceptance of his unique sexual identity propel the show toward catharsis.
Mississippi native Papa Peaches appeared on American Idol in 2013. Here he looked the part of Hedwig in a garish print dress and long platinum blonde wig. He excelled on the ballads "Wicked Little Town" and "Midnight Radio," as well as the punk rock scream "Angry Inch." His rendition of the opener, "Tear Me Down," was too soft to start the show, but he generally handled the musical's mix of genres. Peaches had a solid, poised handle on Hedwig's offbeat, self-deprecating humor and voice, though at times he seemed fidgety in the tight spaces allowed him in a packed AllWays Lounge.
There were a few appearances not regularly part of the show, including some bar-top dancing by Ross Ransom and a panel of guest drag performers. The interludes slowed the pace of the show, but Peaches got the narrative back on track. Interactions with the audience (hold on to your drink) engaged the crowd but distracted from the story.
Musical director Olivia Klein assembled an all-woman rock band to back Hedgwig, including Molly Leash (guitar), Sarah Action (bass) and Gloria McElrath (drums).
The production is rough around the edges. An enthusiastic crowd both can propel it and knock it off track. It's a story about persistence in pursing dreams, and Hedwig is a unique and compelling figure to follow. The show will be reprised in March.