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The Bastard (Theatre)

Christopher Johnson: Hedwig’s anger manager

'As Hedwig, I get to use my full arsenal'

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“On the surface, she’s such a fucking freak,” according to Christopher Johnson, talking in the third person about the title character he plays in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

“She’s so crazy and sad and angry and funny,” he said. “You don’t have to put her at a distance because she creates that distance for you. But that’s also how she sneaks up and sits right down next to you. You feel like you’re holding her hand while you’re watching the show. It really is just about being lonely and finding unconditional love.”

Johnson doesn’t just portray the erstwhile East German singer, victim of a botched sex change operation leaving him/her with a doleful remnant. First training for weeks to get in shape for the physical demands of the role, then rehearsing incessantly, Johnson is determined to inhabit the role of Hedwig.

“One of the things that has become clear to me in doing the show again,” he said, “is that I get to use every single thing I have as an artist to get to play her. I’ve never come across a piece of art where I could more fully express everything I have inside of my body and my brain and my heart, how much energy I have on stage, how much I’m willing to show of myself on stage, how much I’m willing to hurt myself. As Hedwig, I get to use my full arsenal.”

Johnson’s return

This production is something of a reprise of Johnson’s wildly popular 2009 production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” for Live Theatre Workshop’s late night Etcetera series. Johnson was artistic director of Etcetera for five years, responsible for shows like “Robots vs Fake Robots” and “Psycho Beach Party.” He left last year to become part of The Rogue Theatre’s acting troupe and co-artistic director for Winding Road Theatre. In the ten years, he has acted or directed in nearly 100 productions for various companies in Tucson.

This limited run of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will be at The Screening Room downtown. After opening on Valentine’s Day, there will be performances at 7:30 and 10:30 pm on Friday and Saturday through Feb. 23, plus a 7:30 pm show next Thursday.

“This is kind of our dream production of Hedwig,” Johnson said. “When we did it before, you wouldn’t have known because of how successful and well-received it was, but it was a mad dash to actually open the thing. It was really just about getting it done somehow and praying it would all be okay. This time around, we’ve done it before. I’ve been producing theatre for almost 10 years now and I’m doing it independently.”

In case you don’t already know

The cult-hit’s story line, according to Johnson, is about “a young boy named Hansel who grew up in Communist East Berlin and in order to get out and come to America, he undergoes a sex change operation that does not go well. Angry Inch is also the name of the band. And within a year he is also divorced and a woman in a strange country, and from there, she ends up in Kansas. She takes a 17-year-old Christian boy (Tommy Gnosis) under her wing. They fall in love and all the music in the show is kind of the fruit of their relationship.

“But at some point in that collaboration, both romantically and artistically,” Johnson said, “they get a little too close and part ways. They both take the music with them and he, as a handsome young man,, does really, really well, and becomes a huge rock star. Where we catch up with Hedwig in the play, she has a new band of Eastern European outcasts and she’s following Tommy’s tour, stalking him from city to city. So it ends in the present and it takes us up to her being at the Screening Room.”

This is the first production for Johnson’s newly formed The Bastard (Theatre).  Johnson’s artistic statement says the company will focus on “new and contemporary plays by, for, with and about Americans in their twenties and thirties. The Bastard is interested in theatre that explores what young people are doing right now to understand themselves and their lives, and what happens when they don’t, can’t, won’t or are prevented from doing so.”

Also starring Dani Dryer

Johnson’s co-star in the production is Dani Dryer, reprising her role as Yitzhak from the Etcetera production. “Hewig’s also married at this time to Yithak who’s her backup singer,” Johnson said. “They have a very tumultuous relationship that plays out on stage.”

The show’s roots are “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and the glam-rock/punk periods of the 70’s. The musical opened off-Broadway in 1998, with book by John Cameron Mitchell, and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. Its popularity led to the 2001 film, adapted by and starring Mitchell.

“I get really excited for people who loved the movie to see the show,” Johnson said. “It’s a whole other energy. I love the movie, but the movie can’t spit on you, it can’t give you a lap dance. The movie doesn’t change quality depending on how close you sit to it. The audience in this show is an integral character.”

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Abril Castillo/Video Marketing Tucson

Ben Schneider (Bass), Dani Dryer (Yitzhak / Backup Vocals), Miles Bartlett (Guitar), Andrew Lane (Drums), Christopher Johnson (Hedwig / Lead Vocals) and David Lane (Piano / Music Direction).

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If you go

  • What: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” presented by the Bastard (Theatre)
  • When: Thur. at 7:30 pm, Fri. – Sat. at 7:30 and 10:30 pm.
  • Where: The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress Street
  • Tickets: All tickets $15, available at the box office and online at www.hedwigtucson.com; information at 425-4163.
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