“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” heads to the Cocoa Village Playhouse to benefit the Zebra Coalition

By : Colton Adkins
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For a special two-night event, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will be showing at the Cocoa Village Playhouse outside of their normal show season. The punk-rock show is centered on Hedwig, a woman who “is out to set the record straight about her life, her loves and the botched operation that left her with that ‘angry inch.’”

Benjamin Cox, a 41-year-old marketing artist at the Cocoa Village Playhouse, not only stars as the titular character but also directs and co-produces the special engagement. “This has been kind of a passion project of mine since the late ‘90s when I saw the movie and found out that it was a stage play originally,” remembers Cox.

Taking the time to make sure everything is perfect for this long-awaited dream remained a priority to Cox.

“The biggest challenge is I’m not able to get to the fun actor stuff as much as I would like to at the early stages. I have to get everything ready for everyone else,” says Cox.

Hiring musicians, bringing on just the right actress to play Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband (played by Cathy Moubray), and trusting that everyone will follow the vision of the show had to come first before Cox could focus on the development of his character, Hedwig.

“It’s a little bit of a frustration from an actor’s standpoint,” Cox says with a laugh. “But I’ve still got three weeks to fine tune the selfish part of me, the part of me that is Hedwig.”

Bringing “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” to the Cocoa Village Playhouse stage had to remain on the backburner for a long time due to the constrictions of a different time period. “Back when I first got started it was just unheard of to do something [like “Hedwig”] in Brevard County, at least at a main stage theater,” says Cox. “You had your safe bets, your ‘Sound of Music,’ your ‘Man of La Mancha,’ stuff like that, so it was just an idea that I always kind of sat on and kind of let sit at the back of my mind.”

Since Neil Patrick Harris’ revival of the show on Broadway in 2014, “Hedwig” has become more mainstream than it was in the past, winning several Tony Awards and getting a U.S. tour. Even more so, since the show’s inception in 1998 off-Broadway, other productions have showcased a larger spectrum of issues that Cox explains have “eclipsed… or at least matched” those found in “Hedwig.”

An inspiration for wanting to put on the show has continued to be that to some degree, it appeals to the transgender or genderfluid experience. Hedwig is a woman who used to be a man that is portrayed by a man.

“The whole concept is that it’s genderfluid in the sense that [Hedwig] doesn’t even know where she belongs,” Cox says. “She’s not sure if she wants to be a boy or a girl. She feels both are part of her, so she’s struggling with her identity.”

Cox, however, is careful to explain that “Hedwig” is not a show about being transgender. “That’s a situation in this character’s story, but the story is about a human experience,” he says. As a whole, Cox wants all people who feel disenfranchised or marginalized to feel connected to and inspired by Hedwig’s story.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” started in the New York City drag club SqueezeBox! in the early ‘90s. John Cameron Mitchell, the author of “Hedwig,” and Stephen Trask, the musician and lyricist, opened the show Off-Broadway in 1998, and Mitchell starred in the lead. Three years later in 2001, Mitchell directed and starred in a movie adaptation of the musical which landed him an award for Best Director at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and two Golden Globe nominations.

Explaining the plot of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” can be difficult, Cox says, splitting his explanation into two parts: the format of the show and Hedwig’s mission in the show. The way the audience hears the story is straight from Hedwig herself. “Hedwig is talking to the audience the whole show,” says Cox. Heart-broken and attempting to reinvent herself, Hedwig tours the country with her band, The Angry Inch, and tells her story through a series of monologues and punk-rock songs.

“It almost feels like Hedwig is touring and this stop she’s at the Cocoa Village Playhouse,” says Cox. “She’s responding to the audience.”

From communist East Berlin, a young man named Hansel meets a U.S. soldier, Sgt. Luther Robinson, who forces Hansel to undergo a sex change surgery so they can get married and escape Berlin. In desperation to escape, Hansel adopts her mother’s name and passport, and then she finds a doctor to perform the surgery. Unfortunately, the surgery is botched, and leaves the new Hedwig a one-inch mound between her legs and “a scar running down it like a sideways grimace on an eyeless face.”

Luther helps Hedwig successfully escape Berlin, but ends up leaving her for another man. “She’s literally left alone in a trailer park, brought to Junction City from a foreign country,” says Cox. Hedwig eventually meets a shy, Christian boy named Tommy Speck that she writes songs with. Speck steals these songs and changes his stage name to Tommy Gnosis, becomes a famous rock star and goes on tour. This is the setting of the show.

“I try to tell people that this is just really about her going out and setting the record straight,” Cox explains. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there about her and since this scandal broke about her relationship with a rock guy named Tommy Gnosis, now she’s going out and she’s at her rope’s end.”

Two years ago, Cox was told that he would finally be able to bring “Hedwig” to the Cocoa Village Playhouse under the condition that he remained fully in charge of the show’s production. In preparing for the role of Hedwig, Cox relates the experience as “therapeutic” given his ability to relate to the character. “I’m going to be 42 this year. We have all of these moments where we go through these re-evaluation points in our lives, and we have to kind of ask ourselves where we’ve been versus where we’re going,” says Cox.

Shortly after the show debuted on film, Cox remembers some friends coming to him and saying, “There’s this show, ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch,’ and you’d be perfect to play this part.” After expressing disinterest when explained the plot, Cox went on to watch the movie years later and fell in love.

“I just was like, ‘Oh, I get it. It’s a ridiculous concept, but everything works perfectly in it,’” Cox says.“It’s like the ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ musical: you try to tell people, ‘it’s a musical about a man-eating plant!’ If you don’t know the show, that sounds ridiculous, but when you see it, you realize it’s brilliant, the way it’s put together.”

Bringing “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” to the Cocoa Village Playhouse means more than just putting on a show or fulfilling a dream to Cox; it is allowing him to give back to the LGBTQ community. Part of the proceeds made from the show will be donated as a kind of “pay-it-forward” to the Zebra Coalition in Orlando. “I’ve been given this blessing, this opportunity to do what I love,” explains Cox. “I want to pass it on.”

Connecting the local LGBTQ youth community to Hedwig’s story played a major role in Cox’s decision to donate to Zebra as opposed to other organizations.

“It’s that concept that she has no one, and I wanted to find an organization that related to that, that was topical to that message, because that’s something I really wanted to hit with this show: the importance of making sure people who feel different don’t feel abandoned,” says Cox.

The Zebra Coalition provides resources such as housing, drop-in centers and connections to various LGBTQ organizations allowing LGBTQ youth to “be pointed in the right direction,” according to Cox. “It’s about bringing awareness out there for Zebra and using this show as a platform.”

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will be at the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse June 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $18 to $33 and can be purchased online at CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com or by calling the box office at 321-636-5050.

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