Littered with powerful glam rock ballads and enough glitter to rival any show on the Las Vegas strip, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a show unlike any other.
John Cameron Mitchell’s musical, which first appeared on Broadway in 1998, tells the tale of German immigrant Hedwig and her tumultuous journey through finding her identity as a trans woman. The show blends the lines of gender expression through its titular character. Thanks to the efforts of director Jono Bornstein ’18, the boundary-bending and high-energy show that has run on Broadway for decades made its way to Kenyon this past Friday and Saturday. Bornstein’s production rocked a completely filled Black Box theater to the delight of 160 captivated viewers.
Friday’s show opened with a high-octane rendition of “Tear Me Down” performed by Luca Agunos ’18 as Hedwig and Ally Cirelli ’19 as Hedwig’s backup singer and lover Yitzhak. Both Agunos and Cirelli took to the stage with rockstar confidence. Agunos — covered in glitter and crowned with a flowing blonde wig — was enthralling as Hedwig. They moved around the catwalk stage as if they owned it, playing with audience members in the front row and throwing out Kenyon-specific taunts which included a shoutout to former Black Box performer Conor Tazewell ’15. One such jibe, aimed at Assistant Director of Student Engagement Sam Filkins, involved Agunos kneeling on the front of the stage and miming an action that is not suitable to print in this paper. Filkins assisted Bornstein in procuring funding for the production, as the show was not affiliated with any existing theater group on campus.
After the raucous sounds of the opening numbers died down, the audience was confronted with the jaded and downtrodden side of Hedwig. Agunos shined in these quieter moments. In sharing the story of Hedwig’s lost loves and betrayals, Agunos showed the audience the vulnerability that comes from being in the spotlight. “Wig in Box,” which details the destruction of Hedwig’s first marriage and her struggle coming to terms with her identity as a trans woman, was a heartbreaking triumph in Agunos’s capable hands. The song was considerably pared down compared to the more vivacious opening tracks, which were backed by a live band. Instead, the song featured only a melancholic keyboard refrain and the raw emotion present in Agunos’s voice.
Throughout the night, the duo of Agunos and Cirelli commanded the audience’s attention with their electric onstage chemistry. Their relationship on stage is what fueled the most powerful moments of the show, including the closing song “Wicked Little Town Reprise.” This song in particular showed the strategic strength of Bornstein’s directing. In Mitchell’s Broadway production, the reprise is traditionally performed by rockstar Tommy Gnosis — Hedwig’s ex-boyfriend and musical partner.
In Bornstein’s production, the song takes on an entirely new light. Agunos stands center stage, after having shed their costume wig and clothes, and stares into a full-length mirror hanging on the wall opposite. The mirrors had been used throughout the show as television screens, but now they are transformed. Just as in “Wig in a Box,” “Wicked Little Town Reprise” is stripped bare. Agunos’s voice resonates throughout the theater as they slowly approach their reflection in the mirror. Then, with dramatic flourish, Agunos rips the mirror from the wall. Agunos touches their forehead to the mirror’s surface and begins to slowly dance with themselves in small circles. It is an intimate gesture, one that speaks volumes, that continues until the song’s final triumphant bars.
Bornstein’s choice to use the mirror in this scene was deliberate and highly effective. “The lyrics of that song are so powerful, because it’s a song that should have been sung to Hedwig a long time ago and would have helped them accept their life as it were, but it wasn’t,” he said. “And now Hedwig is finally realizing that ‘this is what I deserve.’”
In those last moments of the reprise, Cirelli’s character, Yitzhak, becomes Hedwig’s rightful partner. Cirelli stands on the other side of the mirror and, when the final notes are sung and the mirror is finally lowered, Hedwig can finally see that she is not alone.