Theater Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (National Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on November 3, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


0456Not long into its original run at Jane Street Theatre Off-Broadway in 1998, a cult following had already been firmly entrenched for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It was the West Village’s answer to Rent (1996), which gave a musical voice to gays, AIDS, homelessness, and a disaffected generation. Hedwig offered a voice for transgendered folks but also gave a look at a punk-rock generation through the eyes of a post-Cold War émigré in America.

It’s a show that also salutes those who are overlooked in an ever-more tolerant world; people who shout and protest tirelessly for their rights only to realize that they must take their own journey to discover forgiveness and tolerance for themselves and others. It’s subversive and uplifting at the same time. Often revived on a smaller scale, the show’s insubordination may be why it took almost 20 years for Hedwig to hit Broadway. (It also didn’t hurt that the Tony-winning 2014 revival on the Great White Way starred the awesome and indefatigable Neil Patrick Harris, one of America’s most charismatic and approachable homosexual stars.)

So while there was a successful 2001 film version of Hedwig, now it truly belongs to the masses. So, something is gained (sparkle) but something is lost (edginess).


Creator John Cameron Mitchell’s counterculture hero(ine) is Berlin expat Hedwig, who was forced to leave a rather important bit of himself—later herself—behind the wrong side of the wall in 1988. A chance to escape arose, and Hansel underwent sex-change therapy to marry a G.I. (Had the poor thing only waited one more year for the wall to come crashing down!) Move ahead one year: impoverished, dumped by the G.I., and the casualty of a distortedly bungled gender removal procedure (the titular “inch”), Hedwig devotes her nights to performing at a dump in (whatever city the show is revived in) while her substantially more successful musical apprentice (and unrequited love), Tommy Gnosis, plays a packed stadium nearby singing songs written by Hedwig.


In the case of the Los Angeles leg of Hedwig’s national tour, that packed stadium would be the Hollywood Bowl, and Hedwig is no longer in a dump. The drag-punk, genderqueer entertainer is on the giant abandoned set of a failed musicalization of The Hurt Locker, which was so bad that the turkey folded at intermission (read the hysterical Playbills strewn about the house). Even though Mitchell has returned to update the book to explain the behemoth theater, its setting is antithetical to the bad-luck “internationally ignored song stylist.”

Hedwig & the Angry InchBelasco TheatreStill, the pitch-black premise remains appetizing, even uplifting, by Mitchell’s wicked sense of humor and the recognizable, stinging urge for love, connection and emancipation that accentuates the gorgeous and raucously funny monologue told in tales, songs, and some of the funniest zingers in the theater (the applause after the first number is greeted with: “I do love a warm hand on my entrance”).

Coupled with Stephen Trask’s fabulous pastiches of androgynous 1970s glam-rock, Hedwig remains a queen for the ages (Trask’s score is styled after Lennon, Iggy Pop, and most explicitly, David Bowie). But know that most of the songs don’t stick, and you WILL miss lyrics (I’ve never seen a Hedwig with purely intelligible lyrics, something Hedwig groupies are always fast to forgive).

Glee star Darren Criss fills Harris’s stilettos admirably well, adding glam-model sexiness to a role which doesn’t really need it, but will certainly please a lot of the targeted playgoers. Besides the small back-up band (a quartet called “The Angry Inch”), the only other character is Hedwig’s (possibly hypothetical) husband, Yitzhak, a Jewish-Croatian drag queen who used to perform under the name Krystal Nacht. Traditionally played by a woman, Yitzhak here is given a rocking ferociousness by Lena Hall, reprising her Tony-winning performance (Hall and Criss leave the tour after L.A.).*

Hedwig & the Angry Inch Belasco Theatre Darren Criss Rebecca Naomi Jones

In the end, Michael Mayer’s mammoth multi-media production, aided by Kevin Adams’ astounding glam-rock concert light show, is certainly entertaining, but left me at a distance. In the two intimate productions that I’ve previously seen (including the original), the rawness of the script and music were in your face, making for a much more breathtaking experience emotionally. Here, we seem to be celebrating Hedwig The Experience versus Hedwig the person. It all seems so accepting; this would have resonated more if it were more treasonous.


photos by Joan Marcus

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
national tour reviewed at the Pantages Theatre
ends on November 27, 2016
for tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit Hollywood Pantages
Lena Hall plays “Hedwig” on Nov. 6 13, 20 and 25 & Shannon Conley is “Yitzhak”

*Starting November 29, 2016 in San Diego, Euan Morton (originator of Boy George in the musical Taboo) and Hannah Corneau will star as Hedwig and Yitzhak, respectively, until the end of the run, July, 2017.
for cities and dates, visit Hedwig Tour

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