Inching Away 

The over-the-top “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” arrives in Richmond, bringing a wild ride — and a story that speaks to the human condition.

click to enlarge Richmond actor and Fleetwood Mac enthusiast Matt Shofner plays the East German transgender singer Hedwig in the acclaimed rock musical opening at TheatreLab’s the Basement on Oct. 30. The run has been extended to Nov. 29.

Brenna Wilson

Richmond actor and Fleetwood Mac enthusiast Matt Shofner plays the East German transgender singer Hedwig in the acclaimed rock musical opening at TheatreLab’s the Basement on Oct. 30. The run has been extended to Nov. 29.

It's a bedtime story we've all heard: Man falls in love with an East German boy. Boy has a botched sex-change operation. The slip of a girlyboy starts a rock band.

Since it debuted off-Broadway in 1998, the rock musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" has attained a cult following, spawning a 2001 film adaptation and a recent staging on Broadway starring Neil Patrick Harris. After traveling from East Berlin to Kansas to New York, Hedwig finally is ready to storm the Richmond stage.

Born as a male named Hansel in East Berlin, Hedwig falls in love with an American soldier and the two decide to marry. Undergoing a sex-change operation in order to use his mother's passport, the procedure is botched, leaving Hedwig neither man nor woman but equipped with an angry inch of flesh between her legs.

When the soldier leaves her for another man, Hedwig forms a rock band, only to have her songs stolen by a former lover who becomes a rock star. Defiant in the face of an unfair world, Hedwig roars back, foulmouthed, funny and full of punk-rock fury.

Next week, local theater companies TheatreLab and Spin, Spit and Swear will open their production of "Hedwig" at the Basement, a recently converted theater space on Broad Street. Instead of following a narrative like the film, the show is set up as though the audience is watching Hedwig perform at a dive bar with a band backing her.

"I think of it more as the intersection of where a rock concert and a one-woman show and a musical meet," says director Maggie Roop, who first saw a touring production in Boston. She liked it so much she saw again the next weekend. "I think people are in for a wild ride," she says.

Donning Hedwig's Farrah Fawcett wig in this production is Matt Shofner, who co-founded Spin, Spit and Swear with Roop, who's no relation to Style's editor.

"It's been a challenge in terms of stamina," Shofner says. "I'm pumping her out onstage for an hour-and-a-half in high heels. … My ankles definitely hurt."

As best as anyone can tell, this will be the first regional production of the show since it debuted on Broadway earlier this year. Performance rights for musicals often are restricted if a production is being mounted on Broadway, but the two theaters applied anyway.

"Lo and behold, we were approved," says Annie Colpitts, TheatreLab's managing director. "Even after the Tony nominations, they let us keep the rights."

The show will be TheatreLab's first in its new space. While TheatreLab continues to work on its new home, the company had to push back the show's opening one week to obtain the proper permits from the city.

While the show's premise may lead you believe that it's an exercise in camp, it's a surprisingly deep story about the human condition and the things that connect us all.

"She's over the top, but by the end of the show you have found a way to connect with her," Roop says of Hedwig. "It's about forgiveness and self-actualization and reclaiming one's identity."

"She's a human who is learning something new about life every day," Shofner says. "As long as you're willing to put both feet into the shoes of the story, it's this experience that is universal to anyone who has breathed on this earth." S

TheatreLab and Spin, Spit and Swear's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" runs Oct. 30 through Nov. 29 at the Basement, 300 E. Broad St. For information visit theatrelabrva.com or call 505-0558.

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