It’s 7:00 on a Thursday evening at San Antonio’s Roxie Theatre, and Roy Thomas is getting ready to don the iconic blond wig and ripped fishnet stockings to transform himself for Hedwig and the Angry Inch once again. This is a role he inhabits with ease, having portrayed Hedwig off and on for almost 20 years.
What non-Texans might find surprising is that Hedwig is a Texas fixture as iconic as the Alamo. “Hedwig is a trailblazer and has a very Texas attitude,” Thomas explained. The fight to be free, to be independent and individualistic — these are classic Texan ideals and Hedwig embodies them all.”
Another fact that may surprise those in other states is that San Antonio has been a mecca for drag since the ’30s. As early as 1935, downtown clubs like the Royale on Broadway and the Nite Spot on East Houston were offering what was then known as “exotic entertainment.”
Thomas said, “When I was first getting into drag, the older queens I identified with would always tell me to respect those who came before and paved the way. The drag queens are the ambassadors for the gay community.
“San Antonio (and much of Texas) is a hub for some of the biggest drag families in the nation,” he continued. “Many people don’t know the rich, deep history of drag here. Just like the punk and metal history — it’s the subversiveness that flows just under the surface.”
Getting back to Hedwig, Thomas said that a lot of actors who’ve played the character are from Texas or have a Texas connection, including creator John Cameron Mitchell — and the state has a huge fan base.
Thomas certainly can identify. Being from a small Texas town, he appreciates Hedwig’s dreams of getting away and finding something more.
“Not to mention the live music!”, he exclaimed. “Especially here in SA with the punk and metal attitude. Hedwig fits so neatly into those ideals.” Thomas said that he was involved in one of the first 10 or so shows performed outside of New York. Austin beat San Antonio as the first city in Texas to do Hedwig by about five months.
Morgan Clyde plays Hedwig’s resentful husband, Yitzak. This is the second time she’s performed the role with Thomas, having debuted in the character in a short run last year. A fixture in San Antonio musical theater, Clyde loves the challenges that Hedwig offers.
“It’s really entertaining when people who only know me from my musical theater work come to see a show like this, or hear me sing karaoke,” she said. “It’s always something along the lines of ‘where did that come from?!’. In reality, my rock voice is the default. I grew up with really strong rock influences like Ann Wilson and Joan Jett, so I have to suppress that for any musical theater work I do. Hedwig just gives me space to let it all out.”
The last time they performed the piece was at the Woodlawn Pointe, a progressive church. “This has far and away been one of my favorite theater experiences, especially working with Roy, so I jumped at the the chance to do it again,” said Clyde. It’s always great to find a stage partner you can play with. And Roy definitely fits that bill.”
It’s also fun to stage the show in an intimate space like the Roxie Theatre. “Woodlawn Pointe was very much ‘here’s the stage, here’s the house, no crossover,’ she explained. “Roxie gives us a chance to be in the audience’s lap — sometimes literally. This show just works so much better when they can feel along with Hedwig, not just watch her. And besides, it’s always fun to get to sing straight into an audience member’s face.”
Jonathan Pennington, the Roxie Theatre Company’s founder and artistic director, had staged various shows at the Cameo downtown before moving to the theater’s current location on Callaghan Road in 2016. His goal is to have a show running practically every night, and he’s getting close to achieving that goal.
He is also extremely hands-on. In addition to writing, directing and performing in shows, he’ll build sets and run the soundboard as needed. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also fulfilling,” Pennington said.
“The musicians are phenomenal at the Roxie,” he continued. “Their professionalism from Day One has helped transform the theater space. The drummer helped clean up the debris from our brand new stage, and other members asked what they could do to help. I delegated and they helped!”
About the show, Pennington said, “Hedwig makes people lift up their hands. It helps an audience relate to a human being who is like — or unlike — themselves. To understand that life’s journey is never perfect but in the end, what is there without love, understanding and compassion?”
San Antonio’s theater community continues to grow as the population increases and diversifies. Clyde said, “The culture of San Antonio and the type of work means that most actors float from theater to theater rather than insulating themselves in one space or group.
“Everyone knows everyone, and whether we like it or not, we’re family. That’s helped the community grow as a whole, since most folks want to see to the well-being of everyone, not just ‘their’ theater.”
For those who can make their way to San Antonio, Hedwig is playing two more shows at the Roxie — Feb. 21 and 28 at 8:30 p.m., but never fear. You can be certain that this isn’t the last you’ll hear from her.
Feature photo (l-r): Morgan Clyde, Roy Thomas and Jonathan Pennington (Kurt Gardner).