Elizabeth Curtis, left, plays Yitzhak, and Pangaea Colter plays the title role in Shotgun Players’ “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Credit: Robbie Sweeny

Shotgun Players is bringing rock musical joy to the Ashby Stage, producing the Tony Award-winning Hedwig and the Angry Inch and transforming the theater into a dive bar they are calling The Ashby Sit N Spin. Originally opened off-Broadway in 1998, Hedwig became a queer icon, about an East German singer in a fictional rock ‘n’ roll band. Stories like Hedwig are itching to be told at a time when conversations about gender expression and identity around the country are more vital than ever.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch starts Oct. 28 at  The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. Get tickets online or call 510-841-6500, ext. 303. Pay-what-you-can tickets at previews. Trans People of Color watch for FREE with the code TRANSPOC.

“I made it over the great divide,” Hedwig sings in the song “Tear Me Down.” Hedwig is played by actress Pangaea Colter. The song stands as a revealing metaphor. “I’m coming for you,” Hedwig belts, in a search for love that will offer her healing and agency.

“This is a story about a person stepping into her own self and going on a journey of self-completion,” says director Richard A. Mosqueda. Just as Hedwig transforms throughout the musical, The Ashby Stage itself will transform, under the set design of Carlos Aceves, into a scrappy music venue with neon signs, old rock posters and a bowl full of condoms. The set mirrors the journey of Hedwig, a dreamer who hopes to headline at the Greek Theatre but is performing at dive bars and coffee shops around town. But how Hedwig rocks on! An immersive concert, the stage conjures the smell of stale beer and old popcorn and a psychedelic sound reminiscent of David Bowie. (Bowie co-produced the Los Angeles production of the show.)

Shotgun booked the Bay Area Black Dyke Rock group, Skip the Needle, to perform as Hedwig’s band The Angry Inch. “Skip the Needle brings down the house, and that is one of many reasons these musicians have such a following… as does Hedwig” says marketing director Kristi Deprin. Mosqueda adds, “When the performers feel their fantasy, they are transported into a dreamlike world where their problems fall away, and they are spinning like a forty-five.” 

The band Skip the Needle (Kofy Brown, Katie Cash, Shelley Doty and Vicki Randle) performs as Hedwig’s band, the Angry Inch. Credit: Andrea Kash

In Hedwig, the songs flow in a stand-up comedy style. Hedwig performs a memoir of her life, sharing the good, the bad, and the true, which includes being born a cisgender male named Hansel Schmidt in East Germany. After an American “Sugar Daddy,” Luther Robinson takes a liking to Hansel dressing in drag, Hansel jumps at the chance to get to America, undergoing surgery to become Hedwig. After a year of marriage, Luther leaves Hedwig for a man, and Hedwig turns to a life of music and sex work. 

When Hedwig finds friendship with the older brother of a child she babysits, Tommy, she embraces beauty and delight in her “Wicked Little Town.” Unable to accept Hedwig’s past, Tommy steals Hedwig’s heart, and her songs, and finds his way to fame. 

Hedwig, left to put herself back together, remarries to her backup singer Yitzhak (played by actress Elizabeth Curtis in drag) under the condition Yitzhak not outshine her, as Tommy so hurtfully did. Yitzhak and Hedwig’s codependent and problematic relationship snaps back and forth throughout the performance, adding complexity to the main character’s growth.

SPECIAL ONE NIGHT ONLY “Sneak Peek” event, Hedwig and the Angry Inch in concert, Mon., Oct. 9, 7 p.m. Town Hall Theatre, 3535 School St., Lafayette. Tickets $20 online

”Queer people have not been given permission in the mainstream media to be flawed characters, but have been relegated to comic relief roles and arcane stereotypes,” Mosqueda says. “Hedwig is flawed, messy and problematic at times, but [she] has a huge heart and a dream to find her other half. And THAT is the heart of the story.”

To foster community and connection, Shotgun Players will offer facilitated conversations every Thursday and Sunday following in-person performances. 

Pay-what-you-can tickets are available at previews. Also, through a program launched last year, Shotgun Players offers free tickets to anyone who identifies as a trans person of color. Use the discount code TPOC4FREE online at shotgunplayers.org. Interested parties may also mention the code if booking in person, or when calling the box office at (510) 841-6500 ext. 303. 

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