An unknown theater worker from New York comes to Richmond for the role of his dreams. 

All About Hedwig

Hedwig wants to be a woman. Hedwig wants to be a glam rock star. Kirk Lawrence wants to be Hedwig.

The Firehouse Theatre Company's new production is "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," an Obie award-winning musical about the unfortunate Hedwig, a person caught between genitals, the recipient of a botched sex-change operation who is now neither man nor woman. Hedwig hardly ever gets what he wants. He wants to be a woman, but has just enough manhood left to make that impossible. He wants to be a glam rock star, but ends up a second-rate performer. The musical, which was written by John Cameron Mitchell with score by Steven Trask, first opened off-Broadway in 1998. Mitchell later turned it into a feature-length film.

The musical has made its way to Richmond, and so has its new star, a 39-year-old unknown theater worker from New York named Kirk Lawrence. He has wanted to be Hedwig for three years, and he finally gets his chance when the Firehouse opens the play Thursday night (Oct. 25).

Lawrence claims to have seen this play as many as 500 times. "It's been an obsession since 1998," the New Yorker sighs over the phone from his temporary home in Richmond. In New York he's been the play's Eve Harrington, watching the show at every opportunity and wedging his way into productions, becoming involved any way possible.

Lawrence ran the box office at the James Street Theatre in New York, the play's original house, and built the official Web site for the play. He also acted as Hedwig's public persona, dressing up and acting the part on the street and at publicity functions, doing the work actors did not want to do. "They'd Hedwig me up and I'd go walking around the city," he remembers, " ... which was always quite interesting. It's great to see people try not to look at you." Lawrence was even interviewed for a possible appearance on the DVD release of "Hedwig" the movie. The only thing he hasn't done is perform the role on stage.

In New York you need credits to get parts. Lawrence originally moved there from his hometown of Redding, Pa., but decided almost immediately that he'd rather do theater work that handed out a regular paycheck — like lighting, stage production, etc. Currently he is employed as box office treasurer at the Westside Theatre.

At nearly 40, Lawrence wants to get back into acting for this particular role, and the reason is easy, says the production's director, Daniel Ruth, a one-time member of the Richmond theater community who was also lured north by the bright lights of Broadway. "There are few pieces of theater that come up in any given time that one would want to do that hasn't been done before," Ruth says, suggesting that Lawrence is doing it exclusively for the love of the role.

Lawrence has made himself an expert on the role, and there is no doubting his enthusiasm for acting it out. Not only has he traveled 300 miles, but he believes that "it's been written in the stars that I'll do Miss Hedwig." The reason he is so obsessed, he explains, is that "it speaks to me in such an intensely emotional and personal way."

"It's transformational theater," Lawrence continues. "It allows you to take a journey with the character. Most shows dream of achieving that kind of intimacy and connection with the audience. The amazing thing about the show is that it speaks to everyone. I've seen teens to octogenarians moved and carried along by this piece."

Lawrence is willing, but is he ready? He's been out of acting for several years. Can he handle the role? "He is definitely a seasoned actor," says Ruth, who denies that Lawrence needed any vocal training or coaching for a role that makes him the lead singer of a band. "He came ready to go," Ruth says.

Producer Christopher Dunn says he is very excited about the play and thinks it will draw repeat viewings. He says Lawrence will be a big part of its success. "It's unbelievable," Dunn says. "We are so thrilled that he is able to do this show. He brings an energy and enthusiasm ... that can only come from being involved with this show for so long."

"Hedwig," the play, is presented in the form of a live concert. Dunn says this is an extremely challenging role. "[Lawrence is] on stage for 90 minutes and he's the backbone of the show," he says. "I think he's going to do it with flying colors."

Ruth isn't worried either. "His acting in very quiet moments is very magnetic," he says, "and he will probably have Richmond audiences in the palm of his hand."


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