FT. MYERS NEWS-PRESS GULFCOASTING
Friday June 14th
Dinner theater ventures out there with 'Hedwig'
By DENISE L. SCOTT,
It may not be the fictional Bilgewater restaurant chain, but "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is taking over nonetheless.
The restaurant is actually The Black Angus Grille in Naples, where John Cameron Mitchell's edgy glam-rock musical will make its professional premiere in Florida Thursday night, June 20.
Jonee Dee of New York City is co-producer, director, musical director and keyboardist in the show.
She was also musical director for "The Rocky Horror Show" at the Naples Dinner Theatre two years ago. That theater is bringing "Rocky Horror" back Saturday, June 29 through Saturday, Aug. 17.
"God bless the Naples Dinner Theatre for taking that risk," Dee said. "It opened the door for us. I think the audiences down here are sophisticated and can appreciate a show of this ilk."
Michael Wainstein, Naples Dinner Theatre's artistic director, said because "Rocky Horror" is a tradition among baby boomers, theaters can more easily get away with producing it. More often though, he said, theaters choose shows with commercial appeal to pay the bills.
"Cutting-edge theater in cutting-edge venues is no problem," he said. "But cutting-edge in the Naples Dinner Theatre --our normal in-season Saturday night audience wouldn't like it, but they wouldn't come. We have more younger, working-class people coming in and staying year-round, so we have a bigger audience for this kind of thing."
Despite that, Wainstein said he wouldn't add many more controversial productions because he doesn't have an extra theater space.
The Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers is also squeezing edgier shows into its lineup. General Manager Mary Bensel said she is negotiating to bring "The Vagina Monologues" next season. She said the show is about women telling powerful, thought-provoking stories.
"You have to have a little more edgy show to get the younger audience into the theater," Bensel said. "If they see ‘Rent,' maybe next time they're going to see the ‘Oklahoma' revival. I do think this audience has grown up as we've grown out and expanded the horizons of people."
The audience's reaction to "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" will determine how long it stays at The Black Angus Grille. The show is scheduled for a month with the option to add more dates.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" gala preview
WHEN: 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 14, 15
WHERE: The Galley, 509 3rd St. South, Naples
COST: $20 general admission (21 and older)
WHAT: "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
WHEN: Thursdays at 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 9 p.m. and midnight, starting Thursday, June 20
WHERE: The Black Angus Grille, 4221 Tamiami Trail East, Naples
COST: $20 general admission (all ages)
INFORMATION: Call (941) 285-6038 or visit hedwigflorida.tripod.com.
Dee said she picked the restaurant for its low-key atmosphere. Unlike the movie version of "Hedwig," though, this stage show won't surprise unwitting diners. It's being performed well after the dinner rush.
"If you've seen the movie, it's about Hedwig's national tour of Bilgewater," she said. "This is our Bilgewater. You want people playing darts and glasses clinking. There's no fourth wall. The audience is a character."
She said the script allows Hedwig to improvise and feed off audience reactions.
Dean Swann, of New York City, plays the quick-witted transsexual Hedwig, who shadows the tour of ex-lover and pop star Tommy Gnosis.
"(Swann) is a phenomenal rock and roll singer, and his stage presence is bigger than God," Dee said. "And he looks good in a dress."
Hedwig's backup band, The Angry Inch --named for his botched sex-change operation --consists of Dee on keyboards, Lori Nuti from New Orleans as love interest/backup singer Yitzak, and Naples residents Mike Haddock on drums, I.B. Moore on bass and Lee Blackston, Tony Alba and Devon Cogan on guitars.
Haddock, a.k.a. Max Mosquito, said he was eager to join the production.
"It's witty humor, and the music is unbelievable," he said. "A lot of people say, ‘So it's a gay play?' No, it's about heartbreak, getting stabbed in the back and having to rise up from that. Everybody's been through that."
Dee said the musical is based on Plato's symposium with the recurring theme of finding your other half.
"Makeup, wigs, glitz --that's a form of escape for Hedwig," she said. "At the end of the day, he has to look at himself in the mirror with no makeup and say, ‘Who am I?' It is deep. There are many different levels you can take the show on."
At the first dress rehearsal last Friday morning, the tie on Swann's voluminous red, white and blue cape became knotted during the first song, "Tear Me Down." Once that problem was fixed, rehearsal resumed --but not for long.
"I'm sorry. I have to stop. I cannot breathe," Swann said, slipping from his character's German accent into his faint native Kentucky twang.
A few people rushed onto the stage to loosen his corset.
"Aaaahhhh, yeah," he sighed. "There you go!"
"This is the first time he's performed in the corset," Dee explained from off stage. "It's a little tighter than he expected. You know, beauty is pain. His cleavage are vine-ripened tomatoes."
The corset still proved troublesome as Swann attempted to lie sexily on the floor. Instead, he looked stiff and awkward.
"After my back surgery, I decided to go into rock and roll," he joked, still in character.
Dee revised the blocking so Swann could sit in a chair, and they were at it again --but by now Swann was flustered.
"Basically, it's an 86-page monologue interrupted by 10 songs," Dee said. "It's very line intensive. He hasn't had problem No. 1 with lines all week, but with the corset, the poor thing can't breathe."
"Don't talk to him," stage manager Jay Coker joked in a German accent, drawing an imaginary box around Swann while he reviewed his script. "He's in the learning lines box."
Earlier that morning, Swann explained that his character lures the audience into the play's deeper meaning.
"All of this is a way to get your attention so you pay attention to the story," he said, waving his hand in front of 2 1/2 hours worth of makeup. "The story is what you give up for freedom and what you give up for love."