Seeing Hedwig and the Angry Inch yesterday was an amazing, jaw-dropping experience, one that I plan to repeat sometime before the show ends its run in August. Neil Patrick Harris’s energy was kinetic, Lena Hall was outstanding, and really, heaps of credit should be given to the crew. But for a true in-depth review of this musical, I have to pass the metaphorical mike to someone who didn’t meet Hedwig for the first time on last night’s stage. That’s why I invited my theatre cohort and longtime Hedwig fan, Andrew Scott Taylor, to share his thoughts in this guest review.
All good thoughts and broken legs to cast and crew on their opening night! And with that, over to AST:
Last night, I had the sublime experience of attending the last night of previews for Hedwig and the Angry Inch with my partner in (musical) crime, Allie. For her, the experience was entirely new; she had purposefully avoided reviews and synopses. For me, it was a homecoming.
I was first introduced to Hedwig my freshman year of college and subsequently developed an obsession that consisted of memorizing the soundtrack, attending a college drag ball in my best Hed-wig and even timed a visit to Baltimore around a local production of the musical. Obviously, the story of how “some slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin became the internationally ignored song stylist [Hedwig]” struck a chord with me.
When I heard that none other than Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) would be staring in a production on Broadway, the show naturally leapt to the top of my musical wish list queue. I was not disappointed.
Hedwig, from start to finish, is exhilarating, captivating and just downright fabulous. NPH truly embodies the role and his humor, charisma and talent shine through 30 pounds of pancake makeup and fake hair. (Oh my god, can we talk about the wigs?) The nuances of Hedwig’s character emerge in a beautiful and at times heartbreaking way before the audience. This is a credit not only to NPH’s performance but also to the book by John Cameron Mitchell (who also originated the role). Rarely does a character with such flare and style also get to express such vulnerability and dejection too.
Expertly teasing out Hedwig’s character (as well as literally teasing her hair) is Lena Hall, in the role of Yitzhak, Hedwig’s put-upon husband. Hall is a revelation — a show-stopping songstress with a difficult balancing act to play. Her quiet and soulful demeanor when she’s forced into the background is the perfect foil for Hedwig. And yet, the character also serves as a gendered mirror to Hedwig — talented, melancholy but presenting as male.
The production as a whole was performance personified. Yes, the wigs and costumes were flawless. But for the first time, I found myself checking the Playbill to find out who the Lighting Designer was (Kevin Adams) because in the more violent numbers (“Angry Inch,” “Exquisite Corpse”) the songs became visceral, sensory experiences embodying Hedwig’s anger and frustration. The softer songs from the soundtrack (“Origin of Love,” “Wicked Little Town”) just drove home how beautiful the music and lyrics by Stephen Trask are. The innovative incorporation of animation for the “Origin of Love” number left me with chills. By the end, as Hedwig/NPH encouraged the crowd to “lift up your hands” to “Midnight Radio,” something tangible had taken over the crowd, leading to a preemptive standing ovation that left me choked up.
The overwhelming sense of joy and uplift in the theatre was the most powerful takeaway of the evening. This is a show that, at its heart, explores the complex spectrums of gender and sexual identity. Seeing a crowd of theatregoers lovingly embrace a protagonist who was once considered controversial for straddling those spectrums was a deeply moving experience.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens with a limited engagement on April 22 (tonight!) at The Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street) under the direction of Michael Mayer.