“We are staging it to make it truer to Hedwig’s punk roots by having the perfect environment at Katacombes.”
by Richard Burnett (from Three Dollar Bill, with permission)
“I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch in theatres the week it opened on a first date back in 2001,” says actor Antonio Bavaro (a.ka. Montreal drag queen Connie Lingua). “I have no idea where the guy I was with ended up, but I am still in adoration of [Hedwig creator] John Cameron Mitchell.”
Bavaro stars in the upcoming Montreal production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Montreal Fringe Festival that will be performed beginning June 12 at local punk-rock club Katacombes on The Main.
|Bavaro at the Fringe for All|
(photo: Richard Burnett)
“We are staging it to make it truer to Hedwig’s punk roots by having the perfect environment at Katacombes,” Bavaro, 28, explains. “The show itself was created after performing at several different venues around NYC, and having it a bar/club venue forces us to live in that world. Our version has been shaved down a bit to be able to fit in our 80-minute time slot, but all in all, it will be a pretty hardcore and intense version of the work, with some Montreal specific references.”
Hedwig really began back in 1994 at NYC’s famed drag-punk nightclub Squeezebox where Stephen Trask – who would write the music and lyrics for Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell wrote the text) – headed the house band and Mitchell’s boyfriend, Jack Steeb, played bass.
Mitchell worshipped the rock’n’roll singing drag queens at Squeezebox. So he began to rewrite covers of such songs as Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well, Cher's Half Breed, David Bowie's Boys Keep Swinging and All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople, incorporating them into Hedwig’s original concerts.
By 1998, Hedwig and The Angry Inch debuted at the gloriously rundown Jane Street Theatre in NYC’s West Village.
In fact, Mitchell’s second gig at Squeezebox also featured singer Debbie Harry on the bill, and Hedwig’s trademark wig was famously created that night with toilet paper rolls wrapped in synthetic blonde hair! (Which is also why I love the pic I snapped of Bavaro as Hedwig in the men’s toilet at Montreal’s boozy Fringe-For-All at Café Campus last week.)
By 1998, Hedwig and The Angry Inch debuted at the gloriously rundown Jane Street Theatre in NYC’s West Village a fully-fledged original punk/glam rock musical about a lonely girly-boy named Hansel from Communist East Germany who, after a botched sex change (which leaves him with the titular angry inch) flees Germany before the wall comes down. Hansel morphs into Hedwig, who is neither completely male nor female, but a glam rock’n’roll queen reduced to playing dives while her former protégé and lover Tommy Gnosis performs in stadiums across America.
“I have a great band of fellow Concordia students who eagerly jumped on the project,” Bavaro says.
After Hedwig won a Village Voice, Obie and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, the film adaption won an award for best direction and the Audience Award for Best Drama at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001.
Bavaro has not seen Canadian entertainer Seth Drabinsky’s pretty good touring production of Hedwig that pitstopped at Montreal’s Le National theatre this past February, but this restaging has Bavaro’s imprint all over it, along with Mile End resident Penny Hogan who co-stars Hedwig’s sidekick Yitzahk.
|Drabinsky as Hedwig|
The Angry Inch band also consists of Mathieu Lobraico on bass, Kevin Moquin on guitar, Max Lazich on drums and Willis Smith on keys. “I have a great band of fellow Concordia students who eagerly jumped on the project,” Bavaro says. “They all have different influences, and that made the learning of the songs with their own rock styles really fluid. We've been having a lot of fun with the music and joking around about the lyrics. I am so proud to have such a strong band supporting me. And they're really sexy, too.”
Meanwhile, Alberta native Bavaro created his alter-ego Connie Lingua in October 2002 (a month after his 18th birthday) for an Edmonton fundraiser. Now a drag veteran himself, Bavaro says, “I love drag and I hate it. I adore becoming someone else but I also dislike being taken on a superficial level because of how fierce I may or may not look. Drag is a very complicated passion, and for me I see it as a means to fully express some intimate and often hard-to-touch-upon issues. Empowering one's self with a female spirit enables a performer to either attack or console an audience without alienating them. Hearing a roar of laughter or applause from an audience after baring myself in such a vulnerable manner, that's the best part about any performance.”
“Gender illusion comes in and out of fashion throughout history and I'm very glad that it's becoming more accepted in mainstream society.”
With the huge Walt Disney-esque successes of La Cage Aux Folles and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical on Broadway, Bavaro has mixed feelings about the current mainstreaming of drag.
“Gender illusion comes in and out of fashion throughout history and I'm very glad that it's becoming more accepted in mainstream society,” he says. “But it worries me that we now have a standard of drag in pop-culture. So I’m glad there's also a backlash against more traditional drag as of late. More people believe we should look a certain way, behave a certain way, be a certain way. But drag is so diverse, it can't be codified, really. Like all cultures, it's scary that Lady Gaga and RuPaul, for example, are appropriating jewels from regional subcultures like the drag scene. But I wonder, what do our communities lose when this happens?”
"It saddens me that many people still feel the need to portray the status quo and rejoice in it to feel accepted in society."
The newfound success of Broadway rock musicals like American Idiot and the new, rejigged Spiderman – unfathomable before Hedwig – reportedly has John Cameron Mitchell back in the gym getting his 48-year-old body back into shape for a future Broadway run of Hedwig with original producer David Binder and original director Peter Askin at the helm. The New York Post also reports Stephen Trask is writing new songs for the production.
The diverse, mixed audiences that Hedwig still attracts always turned on John Cameron Mitchell.
“It just makes for a more interesting party,” Mitchell told me years ago. “You know, I think I needed to be more with gay people when I came out, in a more monolithic way. But then you grow up and realize you want a little variety. A lot of gay people only hang out with people who listen to the same music and have the same body and same gender. That’s boring and quite annoying. [It only makes me] feel like a freak among a majority.”
Which is another reason why Bavaro was attracted to John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig in the first place.
“Contemporary drag has always taken pop divas and made these personalities accessible to the public – Diana Ross' I’m Coming Out was just as much a marketing ploy as Lady Gaga's Born This Way,” Bavaro says. “It saddens me that many people still feel the need to portray the status quo and rejoice in it to feel accepted in society, when we have so much wealth in our own rich identities.”
Antonio Bavaro stars in Hedwig & the Angry Inch at Katacombes (1635 St-Laurent, corner Ontario Street) at the Montreal Fringe Festiva1. June 12-12-14-15-16-19. Admission: $12
Antonio Bavaro and the cast of Hedwig & the Angry Inch will also perform at the Punk Rock Drag Show at The Playhouse (5656 Parc Ave) on June 11.
Bavaro’s alter-ego Connie Lingua will co-host the event with Igby Lizzard.
Doors at 9pm, show at 11pm. Admission: $5 at the door (18+)