Winnipeg Production Gets a Hed

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There’s still more than two months to go until the 2003 Fringe Festival, and already the buzz is swarming. But few shows have ever gathered as much advance buzz as a little project put on by Mike Wright and Norm Jensen… a show otherwise known as Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The Herculean effort to bring Hedwig to Winnipeg began shortly after the film version of the cult musical was released in 2001, when freelance audio engineer Wright (of local bands Ditchpig and Trousermouth) came to the conclusion that Winnipeg needed its own production. Meanwhile, Jensen had already obtained the rights to the show, but was considering giving it up until he met up with Wright.

“I’ve wanted to do this for quite a long time,” says Wright. “I heard through a mutual friend that Norm had acquired the rights, so we met that way. He was going to drop the idea because he realized what a big production it would be. I said, ‘No, we can do it!’”

The production began with the right venue. Wright, who is acting as Hedwig’s co-producer and sound designer, and Jensen, who is directing and co-producing, settled on the Royal Albert because it offered exactly the kind of unique, smeary atmosphere that the show needed to capture the story.

Hedwig shows a single performance of an “internationally ignored” rock singer who, in an effort to marry an American G.I. to escape a Berlin Wall-era East Germany, undergoes a sex-reassignment operation (which is botched), and later fights to develop her own identity.

But before Winnipeg could get Hed, producers had to get the perfect Hedwig. After an intensive audition process, Wright and Jensen found a singer with just the right mix of blazing rock’n’roll vocals and sizzling stage persona, which came in the form of former Tequila Mockingbird frontman Matthew Tapscott. Hedwig’s backup singer, the bearded soprano Yitzhak, will be brought to life by the VaGiants’ feisty vocalist Joanne Rodriguez.

Rounding out the cast with other local music superstars was next on the agenda for the producers. For Hedwig’s band, Wright and Jensen settled upon a quartet consisting of the Fabulous Kildonans’ Sterling Shanski on drums and Mark Langtry on bass, Joe Karma keyboardist James Walsh, and singer/songwriter Shawn Bergen on guitar.

With several months before opening night, the worldwide Hedwig community (yes, there is one) has already rallied around the Winnipeg production. “We get a lot of cool mail from people bordering on stalkers,” Wright says. Among the less creepy of the Hedheads include fans from Texas and even England, who are flying into Winnipeg to see the performance or, in the case of the English couple, five performances.

Wright notes that other productions of Hedwig worldwide have been more than ready to help out. “They’ve been really good at helping out with questions that we have. The production in San Francisco, in Edmonton… they’re very supportive.”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch will hit the stage at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival July 16-27, 2003. More information about the show can be found at www.gethedwinnipeg.com.

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