Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
National Tour
Review by John Olson | Season Schedule


Euan Morton
Photo by Joan Marcus
Just as it's hard to believe my oldest friends have adult children who are responsible and mature, it's hard to accept that the funky little glam rock Off-Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch has just turned 19 (it opened at New York's Jane Street Theatre in February 1998). It's become a respectable adult itself, having enjoyed a nearly 18-month run on Broadway where it won four Tonys including Best Musical Revival and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.

While one might attribute this renaissance to nostalgia among former club goers and more adventurous theatergoers who now can pay Broadway prices, the musical shows itself to be an enduring piece of writing. Sure enough, its title character Hedwig—a transgender woman of sorts ("sorts" because her botched sex change operation left her with an "angry inch" of flesh rather than sex organs)—belongs to a marginalized class that is now getting more attention and sympathy than ever before. There is that, and it works in Hedwig's favor, but there's a deeper meaning as well. Hedwig is a loner, abandoned by her father when she was a young boy, reared by a distant mother, and abandoned again by her first husband (for whom she attempted the sex change). She was deserted still another time by the boy she turned into a rock star by writing songs for him. She's now remarried, but abuses her subservient husband Yitzhak. Born in East Germany—a country which no longer exists—and living the U.S. (certainly not her homeland), she's a person without a country, even without a gender to belong to. Yet she survives and persists. Few of us are so hopelessly apart from everything else, though I'd bet we all feel that way at times.

This rock concert as musical lives on thanks to the witty script by John Cameron Mitchell that is satirical as well as existential, and a truly kick-ass score of songs by Stephen Trask that includes soulful ballads as well as big, loud rock numbers. The national tour's lighting design by Kevin Adams won a Tony award and it gives a feeling of rock concert authenticity to Michael Mayer's expanded staging for Broadway. What it also is, though, is a great vehicle for a male performer. Neil Patrick Harris won a Tony for his performance of Hedwig—and new fans for his musical theater work.

Now the tour allows Euan Morton to show his stuff, and does he ever have some stuff to show. I'd seen Morton before—not, unfortunately for me, in his starring role Boy George in London and Broadway's Taboo, but in a concert (in which he mainly sang showtunes) and in a production of Chess at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA. None of those exposures quite prepared me for what Morton can do. The variety of the Hedwig score—everything from very hard-driving metal rock to sweet ballads—provides a showcase for the full range of his vocal talents. Then again, who am I to say that's his full range? There may be more out there he can do. I haven't heard him take on opera yet. Acting-wise, he captures Hedwig's bitter, jaded, but not-entirely-defeated persona—with a decent German accent to boot. He has a keen sense of comic timing which I'd not had the opportunity to see before. His Hedwig is as subtle a performance as could possibly work in a 2000-seat house like the Oriental and, while the role is a big, flashy one, Morton seems never to be pushing. He's been working steadily since Taboo in regional theater, on recordings as well as two return trips to Broadway, but this tour ought to appropriately introduce him to U.S. audiences as a major talent.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch will play the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, through March 29, 2017. For tickets or more information, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com or call 800-775-2000. For more information on the tour, visit hedwigbroadway.com.


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