Local Arts

About ‘Hedwig’: Even in our HB2-roiled state, gender isn’t the point

Euan Morton as Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Euan Morton as Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” ©2016 Joan Marcus

Although North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2 has been repealed, the replacement bill itself remains controversial. All that real life helps “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” – the gender-bending story of a rock n’ roll queen in search of her soulmate, while unencumbered, at least in spirit, by gender – resonate here, nearly 20 years after its Off-Broadway debut.

As a musical, the show is a juggernaut. It remains the best rock n’ roll musical ever produced. (And note: Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte has produced it no fewer than three times: in 2003, 2007 and 2014.)

Yet more vital than songwriter Stephen Trask’s seamless – and seemingly timeless – blend of punk, glam, and skillfully over-the-top balladry, is the musical’s underlying themes of acceptance, self-acceptance and love. And in this town, at this time, “Hedwig” takes on even greater meaning.

“It brings it closer to home,” says actor Euan Morton, the touring Broadway production’s Hedwig, of playing Hedwig in present-day North Carolina.

Since a 2014 revival finally brought the show to Broadway (and won it a Tony), the musical has been updated and localized for each stop on the national tour. So Hedwig references Charlotte neighborhoods and greets our political discord head-on.

On opening night at Knight Theater Tuesday, Morton as Hedwig referenced HB2 – and Morton agrees with the sentiment. “Hedwig says a good thing, which is if you live in a house with a toilet, a restroom, whatever you want to call it, it’s gender neutral,” Morton says.

The show isn’t about gender identity at its core: It’s about a search and struggle that translates no matter your sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Hedwig asks, ‘How do we get love back if we don’t get it from our parents?’ If you don’t get that kind of love, how do you find it?” adds Morton. “She doesn’t march on stage and demand transgender rights. That’s what makes her interesting.”

Hedwig, formerly a young East German boy named Hansel, has undergone a botched sex-change operation in order to marry an American soldier and vacate the Eastern Bloc. The result gave her band, and the show, its name.

“This wasn’t a choice she made. It was a choice forced on her by her boyfriend and her mother,” adds Morton. “Would Hansel have become a woman if it weren’t for that situation? We don’t know.”

Despite her origins, she’s come to represent a marginalized community, and her story humanizes the people at the center of the debate.

“That’s how I’ve been describing it,” adds Morton. “As the humanization of people who are different.”

What makes “Hedwig” different now, says Morton, is that, as a touring show, it’s not necessarily catering to the converted.

“I feel like the luckiest person to play Hedwig, because I’m not doing it in one of those safe spaces,” he says of New York. “Here ‘Hedwig’ is the safe space. We’re going places that may not have that kind of (acceptance). It draws a crowd that’s alternative, but in many places it also draws the subscription audience.”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $29.50-$79.50/$99.50 VIP

DETAILS: www.blumenthalarts.org