Anyone who has ever had a botched sex-change operation or any connection to the Berlin Wall may have emotional ties to a rock musical coming to town. And hopefully, those ties will be one angry inch long.
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is coming to Club Congress this weekend, bringing with it the lounge act/rock show/multimedia presentation that is the Hedwig experience.
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" originally opened off-Broadway in 1998 and spawned a movie in 2001.
Artists' Theatre Project, the brainchild of James Asimenios from Phoenix, revived the rock musical in order to bring something fresh and edgy to the Phoenix theatre scene and to "create art for art's sake."
Asimenios also plays Hedwig in the show.
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch," which is in the irreverent and anatomically incorrect tradition of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, tells the fictitious story of a man born the year the Berlin Wall was erected and raised in communist Germany.
He undergoes a sex change for the love of a military man (perhaps it was the pressed uniform), but the operation doesn't go so well and Hedwig's left with an inch of flesh ("six inches forward, five inches back").
This "inch" may have led to the military man leaving Hedwig once they arrived in the United States.
Hedwig tours with his band, The Angry Inch, playing at small clubs near the larger venues of musician Tommy Gnosis, who reached superstardom by stealing Hedwig's original songs.
And within each of these small clubs, Hedwig tells his sad and often humorous story.
This weekend, Hedwig will tell his story at a tiny joint called Club Congress.
Club Congress' intimate setting is intended to allow the audience to become a part of the show.
"A lot of the show depends on the audience," said director Scott Pierce. And he should know.
Pierce, along with Asimenios and show producer Russell Beyer, dressed in full drag last Halloween and drove to Las Vegas to see the Nevada Theatre Company's production of "Hedwig."
So if a cell phone rings or a server accidentally trips and spills during a performance, Asimenios said he just incorporates it into the show, so every show is different.
"I've had shows that last an hour and a half because the audience just kind of sits there the whole time and isn't really responsive," explained Asimenios. "The last show that we had ran two hours and forty-five minutes, which is about an hour longer than it's supposed to be, because of all the ad lib I did with the crowd. I was taking people's drinks. I was chasing people around the restaurant."
Asimenios said growing up in a city like Washington D.C., which he said was relatively accepting of homosexuality and transgenderism, has allowed him to appreciate creating art through cross-dressing and gender bending.
"And I guess the reason I like doing that is because I want to portray to everyone in my audiences that there really are, spiritually, no gender lines," said Asimenios.
Hedwig's husband Yitzhak is traditionally played by a woman. In the Artists' Theatre Project production, that woman is Tracy Payne.
Beyer said Payne was exactly what the show needed and he knew it when she walked into the door for auditions.
"We were like, 'Please God, tell us she can sing,'" said Beyer. "And then she opened her mouth. And then we got back up off the floor."
After playfully knocking out a drumbeat in lieu of an absent Angry Inch drummer at a rehearsal, Payne sat down for a cigarette.
Payne said she auditioned for the part because she was familiar with "Hedwig" before auditioning.
"I was basically just waiting for someone to have the balls to do "Hedwig," so I could audition for Yitzhak," she said. "I already wanted to do it. I already knew all the songs. I just needed the beard."
But being the husband of, and back-up singer for, an emotionally wounded German on a touring vendetta has a price - even if it's all just a role.
"I'm a little excited because I had a stalker who was from Tucson, so I'm wondering if he'll be at the show," said Payne. "Hedwig has to go through the show hating me and of course, during a serious monologue Hedwig will be giving, you'll hear the stalker in the audience 'Yitzhak, yeah!'"
Angry Inch lead guitarist Tristan Gregoire said he was hired to be in the show before anyone even knew he could play an instrument – he's that chic.
Wearing a sleeveless black shirt and black suspenders attached to black shorts, Gregoire stood humbly in his black boots, which reached his middle calf and had strips of metal along the toes.
He's a junior at Arizona State University.
"A lot of us in the show had never even heard of the show," said Gregoire. "We'd never seen the movie or anything. It just sort of grew on us."
It's not so easy being angry all the time though, and there's always the possibility for a name mix-up.
"We try to be angry and it doesn't always work," Gregoire said. "We end up laughing at each other over something. There's no connection between Hedwig's actual angry inch and us, except our name. That would be kind of disturbing."
As a rock musical, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" employs an impressive soundtrack and may have audience members humming on the way home.
The compositions have genre roots in 70's and 80's rock.
"I've never heard anything like it," said Gregoire, who admitted that he sometimes forgets his cues between songs because he feels like he's watching the show and not actually a part of it.
The University of Arizona community is encouraged to "drag" itself to the show this weekend for a rockin'-good time.