Hedwig and The Angry Inch has been compared to The Rocky Horror Picture show, likely because of the cultish devotion it inspires. However, John Cameron Mitchell’s outrageous and moving musical owes more to Plato’s Symposium and David Bowie than it does to floating lips and Transylvanians. Now Haven Theatre, a new Chicago company has taken Hedwig on as its inaugural production. Executive Director Carol Cohen explains that the company chose Hedwig in part to honor Haven’s gay members. “We have many young gay men as part of our company, Cohen says. “They thought offering Hedwig would be a good way to introduce our company to the Chicago theater community. While Haven Theatre is no way only a "gay" company, we realize the importance of that community and their unwavering appreciation of the arts, and particularly, musical theater.” Our Town spoke with Hedwig herself, Ryan Lanning about the shows ongoing significance and how to run in heels.
OT Hedwig is one of those beloved cult shows and holds a lot of significance to some. How does that affect you as an actor?
Ryan Lanning I try to keep a level head about it, but it terrifies and thrills me. Many people have a very specific idea of who Hedwig is, and that is John Cameron Mitchell, who co-wrote the show with Stephen Trask and was the original Hedwig. As with any well-known role, it's a challenge to maintain the integrity of the essence of the character while staying true to who I am as a performer and not give in to imitation.
OT Why do you think it resonates for audiences?
RL Hedwig struggles with her identity and I think many people relate to the journey she takes to find acceptance. So many of us find it difficult to look in the mirror and really accept the face looking back at us.
OT What are the show’s unique challenges?
RL Stamina. It's 90 minutes of essentially one big monologue and noone leaves the stage. It's the band, Yitzhak (played by the lovely and talented Lauren Paris), and me up there from beginning to end and I swear that wig weighs 10 pounds!
OT As a singer, how do you prepare?
RL Hydration, rest, vitamins, warming up thoroughly, proper vocal production, and lots of praying to not get sick!
OT Generally, the show includes audience interaction. What impact does that have on your acting choices?
RL With many shows, you learn your lines and staging and you do the same thing (more or less) in every performance. This is more of a cabaret show in that I'm speaking directly to the people in the room. There is no "fourth wall" as Hedwig points out in the show. Given this, there is a lot more give and take that takes place. There might be vast differences between each performance.
OT What are you looking forward most to about performing the show?
RL Having that direct interaction with the audience for one. Also, I think the show's message about learning to accept your own inner rock star is especially important, and I hope people get something positive out of the experience.
OT Most important question: how’s the whole walking in heels thing going for you?
RL Wonderfully! Fortunately I have a lot of experience wearing heels on stage. In JERRY SPRINGER THE OPERA, for example, I was running around in 5-inch platform thigh-high boots. Hedwig’s choice of footwear features a very conservative 1-inch heel, so I really consider them flats.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs July 5 through August 11 at Haven Theatre. Purchase tickets at http://www.haventheatrechicago.org.