Groove wasn’t the only theater company to pick a bad time to open for business. In 2019, the final show of its rookie season was scrapped due to running out of money. (Cambridge-based Groove Theatre is rare, if not unique, among Eastern Shore troupes: Founder/director Talley Wilford pays his actors.) Next, COVID canceled 2020 live theater everywhere, although Groove managed to stage a drive-in “Little Mermaid.” Now, a year and a half after its originally scheduled opening night, Groove Theatre launched its 2021 season with its first adult musical, the rowdy and edgy “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a 2015 Tony winner.
For people who have felt lost and isolated in pandemic land, this loud, lusty and lovably freakish show may be just the ticket.
As the title character, Mike Sousa plays an uninhibited, unabashed extrovert who deploys flamboyance to conceal Hedwig’s massive and richly earned insecurities. Born Hansel Schmidt, a self-described “slip of girlyboy” from Communist East Berlin, he/she/they borrowed his/her/their mother’s name and passport to travel to Junction City, Kansas, with Luther, soon to husband No. 2. (Drag queen Yitzhak was the first.) Mom finds her son a genital-reassignment surgeon in case Luther is expecting to marry a woman. But the operation is botched, leaving him/her/them virtually sexless with nothing but a scar-tissue mound between their legs.
“Angry Inch” doubles as the name of the band that accompanies the rip-roaring story of Hedwig’s life through 11 songs. Hedwig and Angry Inch are touring in the shadow of Tommy, a rock star they nurtured only to see him leave them all behind. Versatile music director Ray Remesch anchors the band featuring lead guitarist Jimmy Maguire, bassist Ben VanNest and John Stitcher on drums, plus a mysterious character from Hedwig’s past on vocals and piano. The playlist includes a nasty ode to the “Sugar Daddy” and to life as a trans-mutilated “genderqueer.”
Who could blame Hedwig for turning philosophical, claiming to have been inspired by German philosophers to write “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”? (The Rolling Stones classic, of course.) Hedwig also belts out “Origins of Love,” drawn from Greek mythology, principally Aristophanes’ “Plato’s Symposium” speech, positing that there were once three genders of the human race.Costume designer Jess Paguirigan layers Hedwig in combinations of denim, velvety red and diaphanous sequined see-throughs that together call attention to Sousa’s legs, possibly shaved for the role. His delivery of punchlines is slyly wicked and purposefully revealing as Hedwig sheds protective veneers in an emotional striptease until, on “Midnight Radio,” he is left to the barest essentials. He’s joined on stage for this finale by Laura Todd, whose transformative performance would be spoiled by revealing her character’s identity.
Let’s just say that Groove’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is, by any measure, a triumph in perseverance, both in its message and its charmingly ragged delivery by Groove’s cast, crew, band and director. This is a must-see show, especially if you favor rock and roll. Also, due to pandemic unpredictability, Groove may not stage another grown-up show until spring or summer 2022.
Steve Parks is a retired New York theater critic now living in Easton.
“HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH”
Book by John Cameron Mitchell, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask.
Groove Theatre Company at Dorchester Center for the Arts, 321 High St., Cambridge: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8; Saturday, Oct. 9, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10. Tickets: $10-$20, groovetheatre.com