Rock and Roll Musical Perfection
Book by John Cameron Mitchell; Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask; Directed by Michael Mayer
Broadway, Musical Revival
Open Ended Run
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44rd Street
BOTTOM LINE: A triumphant revival of a show finally making its Broadway debut -- Hedwig and the Angry Inch may once have been ahead of its time, but the time is definitely now!
The original off Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was unquestionably a groundbreaking piece of theatre with its harsh anti-hero, rock and roll music that makes Rent look like a Rodgers & Hammerstein piece, and a book and lyrics that were far more explicit than a musical had gotten away with since Hair. The "internationally ignored song stylist" took the stage and the theatre community by storm at the Jane Street Theatre from 1998-2000. The current revival at the Belasco Theatre (the show's Broadway debut) remains true to the original production but provides enough updated material and Broadway grandeur to repeat that feat again over a decade later.
For the uninitiated, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the brainchild of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Mitchell had set out to make a true rock musical after the experiences he’d had with commercialized theatre on Broadway and the character of Hedwig was born. I hesitate to give away too much for those who are unfamiliar, but the piece is framed as her one-night only concert wherein she tells the bizarre story of her life while her ex-partner Tommy Gnosis has a sold out engagement nearby. The original production took place in a decrepit hotel downtown, so there have been a few delightful updates to the script to move the production to Broadway: Tommy’s concert is now in Times Square and Hedwig is performing on the set of a fake production in the Belasco.
But of course what everyone wants to know is: how awesome is Neil Patrick Harris? And yes, he is just as magnetic as you’d expect. Mitchell’s performance will always be Hedwig, but Harris comes far closer to matching Mitchell than anyone else I’ve seen. There is always an underlying tenderness and vulnerability to Harris that is apparent even during the raunchiest of moments which makes all of the more serious aspects of the show ring true. This is exceedingly important in a Broadway house, where the action needs to be a bit faster and larger in order to play to the space and he definitely pulls it off. I would be remiss not to mention Lena Hall, who provides Hedwig’s sidekick Yitzhak with far more stage presence and gravitas then I am used to seeing in the role along with some amazing vocals (basically proving that no, this is not a one-man solo piece).
Michael Mayer’s production is likewise larger -- this definitely feels like a Broadway show, and yet it manages to never feel as though it has sold out in any way. Yes, some of the twists are telegraphed a bit more which may upset some fans but I can agree with pretty much all of the choices that at first felt a bit odd to me. The score is also modernized a bit by music supervisor and coordinator Ethan Popp with one song completely re-orchestrated (and I think an improved number significantly as a result). Spencer Liff’s musical staging is fresh while remaining completely true to the core of Hedwig. And of course, Arianne Phillips’s costumes and Mike Potter’s wigs are both grotesque and stunning.
So what is the overall verdict? Hedwig is the best thing I’ve seen so far this Broadway season hands down (and if you’ve been reading Theasy you’ll know there’s at least two other productions that I thought knocked it out of the park). Thankfully Harris has enough star power to fill the seats despite a great amount of competition on the Great White Way this year and hopefully his stardom will introduce this piece to a whole new generation of fans while Aladdin keeps the kids happy down the street.
(Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, in an open run. Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 7PM and 10PM; and Sundays at 3PM and 7PM. Tickets are $37-$144. To purchase tickets visit telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.)
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