When Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened off-Broadway in 1998, it didn’t take long before it had captured the attention of the theatre world at large.
Alternatively heartbreaking, uproariously funny, and wildly innovative (even nearly two decades later), Hedwig was unlike any other story to be produced for the stage at that time. The tale of a genderqueer East German singer fronting a rock band, it received accolades from multiple voting circles for Best Off-Broadway Musical before heading to London for a West End run, followed by hundreds of performances around the world by various theatrical groups enchanted with the play’s plot.
In 2014 the show had its first proper Broadway run, winning the Tony that year for Best Revival of a Musical. That particular year’s production will be making its Triangle debut tonight at the Durham Performing Arts Center, the first of a six night run that will close on Sunday, when the national tour rolls into town. Tickets start at only $30 (plus fees and taxes), and are available at DPACnc.com, Ticketmaster, or the DPAC Ticket Office.
When a production of this magnitude prepares itself for a national tour, between casting calls and agents calling in favors for clients, the director will have seen actors and actresses of nearly every talent level. So for Hannah Corneau to land the role of Yitzhak, arguably the second most important part in the play to the title character, you know the actress’ relative inexperience on the national stage was outweighed by the sheer brilliance that she has displayed thus far in the show’s run. Receiving glowing reviews since signing up for the tour – a tour that will take the cast and crew to nearly every major US city through July – Corneau has relied upon her background in regional theatre to enchant audiences around the country.
We had a chance to talk to Corneau before the production decamped within the Triangle this week. Among the topics discussed with the young actress are the timelessness of this particular controversial production; shocking audiences expecting a PG show; and where Evita fits in.
Isaac Weeks: Considering that Hedwig first took the stage nearly twenty years ago, have you found the material to have aged well?
Hannah Corneau: Yes, I do, absolutely. I think the themes of Hedwig, which in my opinion are love, acceptance, and finding your other half, are universal themes no matter when they are discussed. It doesn’t matter if its 1990 or 2017, the themes are timeless.
IW: With Hedwig you are making your national touring debut. What has surprised you the most about being on the road constantly?
HC: It’s surprising and exhilarating to experience the different demographics from city to city. The different points of view lead to different reactions that we receive for this piece. It’s very personal, and it definitely provides almost a new character for the show, just from the audience’s reaction being slightly different each night. Each city, with that particular city’s demographics, gives us that new character to play against each night. That’s what I have found to be most interesting when keeping the show on the road.
IW: While on the road, have you had a chance to discuss or notice that the play’s plot may play a little “too modern” for some audience members that clearly expect something more along the lines of The Music Man?
HC: Hedwig is certainly not The Music Man, or necessarily a light piece of theater. I’ve never noticed an audience’s reaction like I have with Hedwig. Hedwig really has a way of reaching everyone. We have elderly women reaching out their hands at the end of the shows, we have young millennials dressed up as the characters; just last night I witnessed a girl in the audience screaming from a feeling of exhilaration and excitement. It definitely is a poignant show that touches on sensitive topics and themes, but all in all I feel that it is a positive experience for everyone. As edgy and specific as it may be in its messages, its universal and ultimately very positive, so I’d like to think that everyone will arrive at enjoying it.
IW: You have an extensive resume in regional theater, with starring roles in productions of Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof, as well as being a member of an a cappella group. What have you worked on in the past that you would consider to have been the most help in taking on a role like this that requires a lot of dedication each night, both physically and mentally?
HC: I would have to say my work recently in Chicago playing the title character in Evita in their production really helped prepare me for Hedwig’s vocal demand. Of course, taking on a role as dramatic as Eva Peron and then translating it to a role that is as dramatic as Yitzhak in Hedwig, they are very different spirits. The emotional gravitas to both of those characters is very interesting for me as a performer. Also my experiences with my a cappella group really helped me, because Yitzhak also plays percussion in the back of the stage and also sings backup, so there is a lot of harmony work that has to happen. My experience with my a cappella group, singing many different vocal parts and lines and being able to move around mentally and musically at the drop of a hat, has really prepared me for this role.
IW: You are signed on for this national tour through July. Have you had a chance to think of what you might like to do afterwards? Maybe something other than musicals?
HC: Obviously as a human being I want to remain open to every avenue that presents itself to me. I would really love to perhaps go off into a solo recording endeavor – thats always been a passion and a dream of mine – but musical theater is absolutely where my heart lies. This is such an interesting and unique experience for me, because I obviously love to sing, but I also love being an actress and delving into characters for two hours a night. Hedwig has fed my love for theater and music alike, and its just been a fantastic experience. Musical theater is a passion that will always stay with me, and a passion that I will always want to pursue.