Shining Like the Brightest Star: Producer Noelle Hannibal talks Gender, Theater, and In the Wings Promotions’ Show Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of those shows with a cult following. Devotees of Rocky Horror and other Angry Inch fans (called “HedHeads”) love Hedwig for its nods to drag, gender bent characters, humor, queerness and glam rock. The story is at once heart wrenching and inspirational, with catchy tunes that make you want to dance in your seat and sing along.

I had the privilege of speaking to producer of the current Montreal run and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal by email. Originally from Los Angeles, she made her theatrical debut playing Chrissy in Hair and her film and television credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Voyager and Cracker: Mind Over Murder.

Hannibal has had a love affair with Hedwig since she saw her friend Michael Cerveris assume the role from its creator John Cameron Mitchell in the late nineties. There had only been one or two productions in Montreal over the years and it had always been in the back of her mind as something she wanted to do.

Composer and lyricist for the original show Stephen Trask was present for opening night to do a post-show Q&A. He said that originally the show didn’t have a script, only John Cameron Mitchell’s idea to do a show about himself and a request that Trask adapt a story from Plato’s Symposium. That said, I asked Hannibal if they had an actual script to work with for the Montreal show.

“When the show was produced off-broadway in 1998, there was a fully realized script. That is the version we used,” she said, ” prior to that production, it was developed in bars and at parties, beginning with Hedwig’s debut at Squeezebox, a drag bar where Stephen was the music director. When the Broadway version was produced in 2014, there were many differences. In order to create a bigger show more fitting for a large Broadway house like the Belasco Theatre, there was additional dialogue and an added song.”

Hannibal also told me that she was in contact with Stephen Trask throughout the rehearsal process as it was important to her that they present his preferred version of the songs given the differences between those in the film, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. He provided one or two notes after their dress rehearsal.

There has been a lot of controversy in the media recently with regards to cis actors being cast in transgender roles. Given that Andrew Morrissey, who is a cis male, is playing Hedwig, I asked Hannibal if she considered casting a transgender actor and she provided an important clarification with regards to the character’s gender identity:

“John Cameron Mitchell describes Hedwig as genderqueer and not trans. As she has had genital reconstruction surgery because of circumstance, I think it is important to mention. We auditioned every actor and non-actor who submitted and cast the best person for the role.”

The band is quite important to the show given how they interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak. I wondered if they cast musicians with acting experience or actors who could play.

“With the exception of Kevin Bourne (guitar), who came highly recommended by a couple of friends, I have worked with both Stephen Menold (bass) and Sebastian Balk-Forcione (drums) on other productions,” Hannibal answered, “I prefer working with people over and over. There is an established trust. I am fully confident they will be able to handle anything we throw at them, including snazzy costumes, eyeliner and hair colour!”

As a huge fan of the movie, I noticed that this show focused a lot more on the abusive relationship between Hedwig and her husband, Yitzhak, something that was minimized in the film. Hannibal said that John Cameron Mitchell wrote the book with detailed stage directions and notes and they decided to stay true to his vision. With regards to Yitzhak’s character, Hannibal points out that the film doesn’t give him any back story whereas the stage script does. In the stage script, Yitzhak is described as the most famous drag queen in Zagreb.

With regards to the show’s animations, most were done by their director and choreographer Nadia Verrucci. For The Origin of Love Animation, Hannibal found it on YouTube and reached out to the artist to get permission to use it in the show.

For all those who have seen the movie and not the show, and to those that had never seen the show or film before, Hannibal said to come in with an open mind. I say do that, and come with an open heart as well. The story is at once funny, sad, and uplifting.

* Featured image by Romantic Photographic

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