A groundbreaking experience

‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ centers around a fictional rock and roll band fronted by a transgender East German singer who is out to set the record straight about her life.

By Rita Charleston

The high-energy, role-breaking, gender-bending musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, continues at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St., through Sunday.

It’s showtime: Hedwig and the Angry Inch stars Hannah Corneau (above) as Yitzhak, Hedwig Robinson’s assistant, backup singer and husband. The musical is on stage at the Forrest Theatre through Sunday, April 23. PHOTO: JOAN MARCUS

Winner of four Tony Awards, the show tells the story of one of the most unique characters to ever be on stage. With an exciting and innovative musical score, the musical centers around a fictional rock and roll band fronted by a transgender East German singer, Hedwig Robinson, who is out to set the record straight about her life, her loves and the botched operation that left her with that “angry inch.”

The musical stars Tony and Olivier Award-nominated Euan Morton in the role of Hedwig, and Hannah Corneau as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s assistant, backup singer and husband.

According to Corneau, Yitzhak is a Jewish drag queen who verbally abuses Hedwig throughout the evening. Jealous of Hedwig’s success, to further the musical’s theme of blurred gender issues, Yitzhak is traditionally played by a woman.

The most notable woman to play Yitzhak was Lena Hall, who originated the role on Broadway and won a Tony for her performance. Corneau saw that performance and was deeply influenced by it.

“I let her genius seep into my soul and I truly learned from her,” Corneau said. “I definitely tried to bring some of the things I saw in her performance into my own. But I do believe that the role is unique to each actor who does it.”

Corneau, from upstate New York and a graduate of the Musical Theater Program at Syracuse University, said she started in community theater at a very young age, thanks to her mother.

“The theater was doing The King and I, so my mother took me there to audition. When she put me up on stage, I did audition, got a role playing one of the children, and from then on I was hooked.”

After college, Corneau spent time working in regional theater in Chicago and Washington, D.C. And now she’s playing the country with the national tour of this spectacular show that, according to the actress, is like the “ultimate dream come true.”

But, as with any role, Corneau admits this one has its challenges, like having to play a man.

“The physicality of the role is the biggest challenge. I move like a woman and I speak like a woman. But once that costume goes on, I have to change into a man. For me, transforming into a man has been the biggest challenge. But once I got the hang of it, I was able to transform into him quite easily.”

Another challenge, she continues, is playing to audiences in different parts of the country.

“I think freedom of expression is the best thing about being an artist. And in this show, the expression is deep and pure as we try to impart ideas of love and acceptance. But the reaction to the show can be different, based on where we are geographically.”

For example, “When we play small towns in the South, we get different reactions from town to town. The reactions are not as much discouraging as they are interesting.

“We make bold statements in the show,” she concludes, “but I believe Hedwig is a very important show with universal themes. So wherever we happen to be, I think everyone can relate to those solid themes.” ••

For times and ticket information, call 1–800–447–7400 or visit forrest-theatre.org