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Matthew McGloin is American Stage’s ‘Hedwig’

Bill DeYoung

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New York performer Matthew McGloin has the title role in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" at American Stage. Images provided.

At painted face value, the tale of transgender rock performer Hansel Schmidt is tragic in the extreme: One failure after another, a life of poverty and betrayal and, worst of all, a botched backroom sex-change operation.

That surgery-gone-wrong left the East Berlin refugee with, well, an angry inch of flesh.

In John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hedwig (Hansel, transformed, took his mother’s first name) and her band – yes, they’re named for her excised genitalia – the story spills out, between songs, in moments that veer between sadness and – surprise – euphoria.

Such is life.

New Yorker Matthew McGloin has the title role in American Stage’s new production of Hedwig. He gives director Kirsten Kelly the credit for moving him, and the others in the cast, towards the joy in Hedwig’s otherwise tawdry tale.

“Something she talked about from the get-go, even in the auditions, was about how Hedwig is offering to the audience a gift,” McGloin explains. “Every time Hedwig is sharing a story, sharing a song. And I believe there’s something about the live processing that Hedwig is doing to better understand herself – that’s part of the ‘why’ in doing this performance.

“And to be totally honest, I’m still really finding what is behind that ‘why.’ Why do we ever stand up in front of people and tell them a story about ourselves? Which is essentially what Hedwig is doing. I think there are many answers to that question, and many different ways to play it.”

For Hedwig, the “concert” and the confessional, laced with anger, bawdiness and a lot of humor, offers a kind of catharsis. “I think when the emphasis is on the joy of her performing,” offers McGloin, “it makes so much sense why Hedwig would get up and do this.”

The live band backing Hedwig consists of fellow East European refugees (and one American union substitute). Among them is Yitzhak, her mostly-petulant onstage foil and backup singer. Hedwig introduces Yitzhak as her husband.

Only when the American Stage company began rehearsing the entire show straight through, “the full arc,” McGloin says, “it was so apparent to me that the relationship between Hedwig and Yitzhak is this driving force, and this undercurrent of danger. It’s almost like a loaded gun onstage, in a way – there’s this anticipation that’s something’s going to explode. To change.

“It becomes a different story by the presence of this other human, who Hedwig is manipulating and treating horribly.”

Yitzhak is played by K. Chinthana Sotakoun. “I’m definitely not in a one-person show,” insists McGloin. “That is for sure. There’s more gravitas than the words on the page, more meat on the bones, more people and energy to play with by having these other characters onstage. And having these live musicians that are proving the music, the dynamic is not to be underestimated.”

Years ago, McGloin devised a sort of shorthand way to respond to people in the theater business who asked him to define his “type.” Tell us, they’d say, who are the characters you feel you have a kinship to? He quickly came up with four names. “It sounds kind of sterile now,” he laughs.

By then, he’d seen Neil Patrick Harris in the Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the movie version with creator Mitchell in the title role.

He named Hedwig, the Emcee in Cabaret, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the title character in Amadeus. “Parts that my skill, my personality, my physical type I believe lend themselves to.”

He got to play the Emcee in 2022, with the Peterborough Players. And “it felt like a second skin.”

McGloin has a lengthy resume, from Off-Broadway and regional theaters across the country to TV and independent film. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, he says, “is the most intense, and the most substantial in terms of what is asked of you onstage. It’s the hardest vocally. It is the one that involves the most talking.”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (18+ only) runs through June 16 at American Stage (shows June 13-16 will be performed at Jannus Live). American Stage website.

The finale McGloin, K. Chinthana Sotakoun as Yitzhak, and the band.

 

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