Happiness is a theatrical role

by Kieran Grant, Toronto Sun, April 24, 2001

Moe Berg is the first to admit that his latest gig isn't exactly a stretch.

He's right at home in his role as the glammed-up, on-stage musical director for the Toronto production of the celebrated off-Broadway rock opera Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

There's just one glaring difference.

"It's a very professional situation," the former Pursuit Of Happiness frontman muses. "Unlike being in a rock band, which, as you might guess, is a pretty unprofessional situation most of the time."

Hedwig And The Angry Inch, currently running at the Bathurst St. Theatre and starring actor-singer Ted Dykstra, seems to have been culled from the cosmic reaches of early '70s glam fantasy. Blurring the line between rock concert and theatre, playwright and songwriter John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask created the title character Hedwig, an East German would-be transsexual who moves to a creepy American town after a botched sex change operation (hence that Angry Inch). Hedwig tells his/her story by way of a gig at a creepy dive, with a set that, on a musical level, melds David Bowie, Lou Reed, John Lennon, Jayne Country and Meat Loaf. Director Jim Millan drafted Berg in to keep it all together as bandleader Sksp.

"This is the sort of music I grew up listening to," Berg says. "When I got the call, I was immediately intrigued, and I only had to hear half of the first tune and I was already on board."

The musician says he had cart-blanche when it came to selecting players, though he made sure it was the right band to back up Dykstra.

The only adjustment came with following a script. Berg has had cameos in several movies, and recently completed the score for a short film by director Jesse Shamata. His only previous experience dated back to when he adapted Catcher In The Rye for the stage in school.

But then, "Rock concerts are always planned to a degree."

And there's always been a touch of theatre in his work.

Says Berg: "Even when I did my solo tour after I put out my solo record (1997's Summer's Over), a theatre critic came up to me and said, 'This is more like a one-man show.' But I hadn't scripted it, I just talked for half the night.

"She was like, 'You're wasting your time doing this in front of a rock audience. It should be a theatre audience.' That got the hamster running in my brain, and doing this show has given me some more insight."

After putting out a well-received book of short stories, The Green Room, last year, Berg says he's interested in writing for the stage and acting, but would draw the line at a lead role in a musical -- even if he was dolled up in the kind of glam-rock disguise he wears as Sksp.

"I'm not that kind of singer," he says, laughing.

"To some degree I'm playing myself as a young man in Hedwig. I'm wearing my own leather pants, and I used to wear make-up all the time when I'd play. It was part of the transformation, because I was such a meek person. It transformed me into a quasi-rock star at the time. It gave me the confidence to get up for the show.

"I still feel that way, especially since I've only been on a concert stage a few times a year over the last three or four years. To some degree I have less on the line now because I'm playing someone else's material and I'm playing a character.

"It's liberating to play a rock star instead of being one."

Copyright 2001, Sun Media, Canoe Limited Partnership. All rights reserved

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