By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Hedwig is a bijou of a role that needs a special brand of performer to carry it off. Last fall at Kitchen Dog Theater, wiry, epicene Joey Steakley was ideal casting as the cross-gender East German who describes herself as an "internationally ignored song stylist." Steakley looks remarkably like John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the book of the show (music and lyrics by Stephen Trask) and starred in both the hit off-Broadway production and film version. It's not that Hedwig has to be played by someone who looks like Mitchell, or even like Steakley. It's that Hedwig, who wears '80s disco gear and a huge white-blond wig, should appear feminine enough to attract men and just male enough to be confusing.
The show is about blurred gender roles and what it means to find wholeness as a sexual outsider. In songs and monologues, Hedwig jokes and agonizes about his/her doomed relationships with an American G.I. and a young rock star (who has stolen Hedwig's best songs). She is a fragile creature who gains strength and determination during 90 minutes onstage.
Rain's Hedwig is all wrong, from his butch boots and big calves to his pot belly and beefy shoulders. He can sing, but his voice is an octave too low for this character. Steakley gave us a Hedwig that was part David Bowie, part Patti Smith. Rain's Hedwig is Bruce Willis/Martha Raye.
On the night reviewed, the production had more worries than just its miscast lead. Slide projections weren't working, and the band was listless, reducing rock songs to dirges. Rain tried to muscle up some excitement by milking the monologues, but he succeeded only in sweating so hard his heavy makeup ran off in rivulets. Hedwig, the wetrosexual.