The Underground’s alternating ‘Hedwig’ and ‘Rocky Horror’ inspire song, dance and glitter explosions

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When he isn’t a sculpted blonde-haired, blue-lidded East German rock ’n’ roller with a terrible ex and a botched surgery, Alec Schroeder is a mad scientist in a bustier with fishnets and thigh-high platform boots.

The local actor stars in — and directs — both “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which are playing on alternating nights through Halloween. The highly costumed back-to-back shows open with “Hedwig” at 7:30 p.m. today at The Underground.

Maybe one of the soundtracks offered a gentle nudge toward this pairing, Schroeder said.

“The opening song (of ‘Rocky Horror’) is ‘Double Feature,’ ” he said, a nod to the yacht rock tune that references some of the show’s B-movie influences.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has played locally for almost a decade. Fully costumed actors lip-synch and act on stage in front of a screening of the 1975 film starring Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. It’s the age-old tale of a high school couple with a flat tire who stumble upon a spooky mansion filled with colorful characters — including the Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Cue the callouts, props and “Time Warp.”

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This is Schroeder’s second year directing “Rocky Horror,” which he loves for the darkness and campiness, the humor and edge.

“I watched it when I was very young, and I was a pretty eccentric kid,” he said. “I loved dressing up and makeup. Tim Curry was like an idol for me. When I saw him, I was like ‘There are people like me.’ It was cool to be strange, cool to be weird.”

“Hedwig,” which has moved beyond cult classic status with the popularity of the Broadway show, has become a recurring role for Schroeder, who starred in the small musical when it first opened here in 2014 with co-star Tonya Porter.

The two-person musical — plus backing band The Angry Inch — is Hedwig’s life story, which includes an operation that leaves the rocker with an anatomic anomaly, a vicious-tongued partner, and a lost love or two — one who steals her song and makes it big.

“I think Halloween is about putting on a mask and becoming someone else and owning up to your inner freak,” Schroeder said. “Hedwig gives that message for self-acceptance, and that it’s OK to be an underdog.”

Pulling triple duty has required a lot of preparation and planning, Schroeder said. He’s rewatched “Rocky Horror” and reread the script for “Hedwig” while plotting ways to make it bigger and better — which he says it is. Rehearsals began in August.

“Anyone can pull it off if they have enough passion about the project,” he said. “Both of these shows are my favorite pieces of theater. I’ve poured my heart and soul into it. I think it will show.”

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Porter and Schroeder, who have become good friends since they first staged “Hedwig,” have been able to fine-tune the show — even making on-stage decisions outside of the theater. “Rocky Horror” requires less vocal commitment, but has a cast of about 20.

“It’s been a huge, heavy load,” Porter said. “Not only is (Schroeder) directing and trying to run on stage and act and run off stage and watch what he was trying to act. That’s been chaotic. He’s doing an amazing job.”

A few nights ago, Schroeder and Porter even got together to make signs for the shows.

“There were glitter explosions,” she said. “I don’t think he’ll ever get the glitter out of his dining room.”

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Tickets: $20 at www.duluthplayhouse.org; $35 for tickets to both.

Written by Christa Lawler as published in the Duluth News Tribune

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