Matt McGrath, who has often played shy, neurotic youths approaching manhood has taken on the ultimate twist on that type: McGrath is the new Hedwig in off-Broadway's Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He began performances Dec. 20, replacing Ally Sheedy, who departed suddenly after a troubled run in the role.
McGrath's off-Broadway credits include A Fair Country, Minutes From the Blue Route and Northeast Local, all of which cast him as a somewhat naive youth getting an unpleasant taste of adult life. The actor will have an official opening in Hedwig Jan. 6, 2000.
Kevin Cahoon, who subbed in the show for the week between Sheedy and McGrath, is playing the Wednesday night and late-night Friday shows until Donovan Leitch returns, in late January 2000, from recording a CD. Maggie Moore continues in the role of Yitzhak.
As previously reported, Sheedy parted ways with Hedwig after Saturday night, Dec. 12, nearly two months before her contract was up. The official word (from the Richard Kornberg press office) was that Sheedy had to leave the show early, and "the producers agreed to let her go." The New York Post has reported, however, that Sheedy's performances had been increasingly erratic, with the producers hoping she would leave right after the holidays. A spokesperson at the Kornberg office had no comment on the Post's reports that Sheedy had been "dropping songs and ad-libbing lines to the point where audiences could no longer follow the plot." The previous week, the Post reported sources saying that at one performance, Sheedy declined to sing a song and "forced" another actress to sing it instead. Producer James Freydberg wouldn't comment to the Post on the actress' reported difficulties and said instead that, "this is a high-energy show, and she and we felt it would be best for her to be with her family and relax again."
Sheedy made her official debut as Hedwig Oct. 13, after starting previews Sept. 20. She starred in such mid-80s teen comedies as "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire." Her career was long on the down side, however, when the 1998 art film "High Art" brought her back into the public eye. In that movie, Sheedy played a lesbian, drug-addled, has-been photographer.
Sheedy, who received mixed notices, was the first female to play the part of the tortured German transsexual rocker. To date, only male actors have filled the role: the show's creator, John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Cerveris (Tommy) and Cahoon.
The L.A. production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which starred Cerveris and had David Bowie on board as associate producer, opened Oct. 22 and closed Dec. 19, much earlier than anticipated. According to the Los Angeles Times, the producers lost their entire $600,000 investment.
The L.A. Times quoted co-producer Joan Stein as saying, "if this city had any theatre moxie, it would have carried [star Michael Cerveris] through the streets on silk pillows." 200 fans of the show reportedly signed a petition to keep the show going, but the finances just didn't work out. Stein noted that filling the 499 seats of the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood wasn't so much the problem as was getting a promotional push. "We could have existed [filling] only 50 percent of the seats at each performance," she told the L.A. Times.
On a more positive note, plans are still underway to bring Hedwig to London "early next year," and a recent repertory theatre production in Cologne, Germany, was successful enough to warrant a commercial mounting there in the spring. The Hedwig movie is supposed to start filming in May, with originator John Cameron Mitchell both behind the camera and on screen. Christine Vachon ("Boys Don't Cry") is producing for New Line Cinema.
The New York production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is, like many shows, offering discounts during the difficult winter season (some $19.99 seats are available at all performances; at Friday night 11 PM shows, all seats are $19.99).
Hedwig was written by its star, Mitchell (book), and Trask (music and lyrics). McGrath now plays the title singer, an obscure and tortured transsexual rock singer, who tells her darkly comic story while ostensibly performing a concert. The Angry Inch, her back-up band, is Trask's rock combo Cheater, a staple at such downtown New York clubs as CBGB's and Mercury Lounge. The musical has been playing at the Jane Street Theatre since Feb. 14, 1998. For tickets call (212) 239-6200.
-- By David Lefkowitz & Robert Simonson