Theater Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (Chance Theater in Anaheim)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on February 12, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


In the pantheon of (so-called) rock musicals, Hedwig and the Angry Inch holds a distinct and unparalleled position, merging raw energy with emotional depth in a way that few other shows can claim. Witnessing its 1999 iteration with Michael Cerveris in the lead role was a transformative theatergoing experience, and its recent revival at the Chance Theater has proven that its impact remains as potent and relevant as ever. The narrative of Hedwig, a genderqueer East German singer wrestling with identity, love, and betrayal, continues to captivate and challenge audiences, affirming the enduring power of certain stories to resonate deeply.

Tom Avery

Hedwig has been lauded by Rolling Stone as “The best rock musical ever written,” a statement that barely scratches the surface of its musical diversity and complexity. The score is a masterful blend of genres, seamlessly incorporating elements from ’60s ballads, folk-rock, country, Weill, and Sondheim, creating a musical experience that defies simple categorization.

Tom Avery, Mazie Voss, and James Michael McHale

The collaboration between John Cameron Mitchell, the original actor to play Hedwig, and Stephen Trask has resulted in a libretto and score that are exemplary in their narrative cohesion, wit, and emotional range. The latest production honors their original vision while infusing it with fresh vitality, thanks in no small part to Tom Avery‘s confident portrayal of Hedwig. Avery delivers each line with precision and depth, captivating audiences from the opening notes to the final curtain. Avery’s voice aligns well with the score’s demands, and the acting compellingly conveys the character’s evolution throughout the 90-minute duration.

Tom Avery and Laura Herskov

The complex dynamics between Hedwig and Tommy Gnosis, her former lover and musical protégé, are at the heart of the story, offering a nuanced examination of desire, betrayal, and the quest for recognition. The production handles these themes with a deft touch, creating moments of genuine connection that resonate powerfully in the intimate setting of the theater.

Laura Herskov, Tom Avery, and James Michael McHale

Laura Herskov‘s portrayal of Itzak, Hedwig’s antagonist, backup vocalist, and emotional anchor, adds another layer to the narrative, exploring themes of ambition, gender fluidity, and recognition. Herskov’s performance strikes a balance between boldness and vulnerability, shedding light on Itzak’s struggles and aspirations amidst Hedwig’s dominant presence.

Laura Herskov and Julia Smushkova

This production triumphs in its ability to balance spectacle with substance. Hedwig’s journey is adorned with humor, lavish costumes, and bold makeup, yet these elements enhance rather than eclipse the emotional truth at the story’s core. Director Matthew McCray‘s direction is precise, skillfully building tension and maintaining a coherent narrative flow. The richly detailed set design by Bradley Kaye is a homage to the original production, a punk club setting adorned with a graffiti-covered Berlin Wall and is enhanced by beautiful projections and animations by James Santiago.

Tom Avery and Julia Smushkova

“The Angry Inch” band, composed of actor-musicians Lex Leigh (musical director), James Michael McHale, Mazie Voss, and Julia Smushkova, is competent but underpowered. James Markoski‘s well-calibrated sound design ensures the audience could clearly hear the lyrics.

Tom Avery and Mazie Voss

The Chance Theater’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a testament to the timeless appeal of its story and music. It reflects the spirit of its era while remaining profoundly relevant today, offering a spectacle that is as moving as it is entertaining. For both long-time fans and newcomers, this production is highly recommended, promising an entertaining and thought-provoking evening of theatre.

Tom Avery

photos by Casey Long

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Chance Theater
Cripe Stage @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma in Anaheim
Thu at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sat & Sun at 3
ends on February 25, 2024
for tickets ($8-$54), call 888.455.4212 or visit Chance

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