Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The "concert" starts with Hedwig greeting her Twin Cities fans, with some ingratiating references to St. Paul and Minneapolis tossed in. Through song and self-pitying banter with the audience, Hedwig tells all. After warning us that she will strip away every pretense to reveal the raw truth ("Tear Me Down"), she takes us back to her childhood, 1961, in East Berlin when she was a boy named Hansel, with an absent father and catatonic mother. At a young age Hansel became obsessed with Plato's notion of love as the search by each person for his or her other half, to form the whole we once were before angry gods tore us apart. The two matching halves may both be male, female, or one of eachall that matters is the right fit, as she sings in the beautiful "The Origin of Love," illustrated with fantastically conceived animation.
Desperately lonely, Hansel's search for his other half leads him into the clutches of Luther Robinson, a U.S. soldier stationed in Berlin, who brings the lad back to Kansas with the understanding that Hansel become Hedwig. The operation that was supposed to take care of that goes afoul, leaving Hansel, now Hedwig, with neither penis nor vagina, just a mound of flesh in that spotthe "angry inch." Hedwig finds her only solace in playing her role to the hilt, when she dons the "Wig in the Box" and can become as glamourous and as desired as her dreams allow. She falls in love with a 17 year old whom she persuades to break out of their "Wicked Little Town" and grooms into a mega-rock star named Tommy Gnosis. After again being left behind, Hedwig connects with Yitzhak, a woman who has transformed into Hedwig's submissive husband, and the recipient of her unceasing verbal and psychological abuse.
In the touring company, Hedwig is played by Euan Morton, terrific in voice, movement, and such important skills for this role as striking poses, sneering, and threatening her musicians with seduction. Morton is a veteran of rock musicals, having played Boy George in the musical Taboo in London and on Broadway. He is a perfect choice for this demanding role. Hannah Corneau's portrayal of Yitzhak perfectly matches Hedwig's callous domination. Corneau evokes the piercing pain Yitzhak feels, released with fleeting acts of passive-aggression; then, in the show's final moments, she dazzles us with the passion locked within Yitzhak. The four members of the Angry Inch are all fantastic musicians who bounce energetically around the stage and maintain their cool in the face of Hedwig's ribald teasing.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch was developed by actor/playwright John Cameron Mitchell (book) and writer Stephen Trask (music and lyrics) in small punk-drag clubs before opening Off-Broadway in 1998, where it won numerous awards and ran for two years. Its genesis on club stages allowed it to maintain a rock concert's blaze of untamed energy, while its brilliant creators crafted its elements into a compelling story and terrific rock score, with not a miss among its ten songs. After years of stagings at regional theaters around the U.S. and the world, Hedwig became a Broadway show with a Tony-winning 2014 revival fronted by Neal Patrick Harris, who scored a Best Actor Tony for his work.
That success led to the current national tour which is spending the week at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts: Trash-glam, gender-fluid rock meets the elegant hall whose most recent theatrical showcase was Irving Berlin's White Christmas. But Hedwig must be staged as a rock event, recklessly pouring out its hero/heroine's tawdry tale. The current production, directed by Michael Mayer (who also helmed rock musicals Spring Awakening and Green Day's American Idiot) manages to keep the flames of rock and roll and Hedwig's raw emotions blazing brightly, at times blindingly so, with Kevin Adams' lighting design intended to do just that. The set, designed by Julian Crouch, is brilliantly ridiculous. We are fed the lie that the night before, a new show called Hurt Locker, the Musical opened at the Ordwayand closed at intermission. The theater thus became available for Hedwig's one-night only performance. On stage is a backdrop of Hurt Locker's exploding bombs. To seal the effect, bogus Hurt Locker, the Musical Playbills, complete with wittily drafted cast bios and song titles, litter the floor of the Ordway as the audience takes their seats.
Arianne Phillips dresses Hedwig in a flashy-trashy, thigh revealing get-up, with Yitzhak dressed in sobering black and the Angry Inch guys in standard rock-musician garb. Mike Potter's wig and make-up design are critical to making Hedwig both believable and preposterous. No one could wear that lemon yellow wig, with its thick, long tresses in back and curls the size of sub sandwiches framing both sides of her face, intending to be taken for a woman. By her posture, voice, clothing, wig and make up, Hedwig defiantly declares herself something other than male or female, challenging us to weigh the possibilities.
Only the sound design is amiss. That may be the result of a touring show nurtured in small clubs, that even on Broadway played at a mid-sized house (the Belasco) being amped up to fill the cavernous space of a venue like the Ordway. The volume is too loud (or am I just getting old? Nah!). More troublesome, the sound quality is murky, often making it difficult to follow song lyrics and Hedwig's monologues. This is all the more disappointing as the Ordway is noted for its impeccable acoustics.
That considerable issue aside, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a thrilling display of talent and emotion, raising questions about the categories we use to box people in and the damage done when we limit those boxes to our known world, oblivious to how much world remains to be discovered. It is an important work of musical theater, with one of the best rock scores ever written. It is undoubtedly better suited to the more intimate venues of its birth, but if we must venture to large halls like the Ordway to spend ninety minutes with "the internationally ignored song stylist" Hedwig, then we must. Missing out on her is not an option.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts through February 19, 2017. 345 Washington Street, Saint Paul, MN. Tickets from $114.50 - $37.00, $34.00 for Standing Room. For tickets call 651 224-4222 or go to Ordway.org. For more information on the tour, visit hedwigbroadway.com.
Book: John Cameron Mitchell; Music and Lyrics: Stephen Trask; Director: Michael Mayer; Musical Staging: Spencer Liff; Music Director: Justin Craig; Scenic Design: Julian Crouch; Costume Design: Arianne Phillips; Lighting Design: Kevin Adams; Projection Design: Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions; Animation: Phosphene/John Blair; Sound Design: Tim O'Heir; Wig and Make-up Design: Mike Potter; Music Supervisor and Coordinator: Ethan Popp; Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis; Casting: Calleri Casting; Associate Director: Johanna McKeon ; Production Stage Manager: Jovon E. Shuck.
Cast: Hannah Corneau (Yitzhak), Euan Morton (Hedwig). The Angry Inch: Justin Craig (Skszp - guitar, keyboards, vocals), Matt Duncan (Jacek - bass, guitar keyboards, vocals), Dylan Fusillo (Schlatko - drums, vocals) and Tim Mislock (Krzysztof - guitar, vocals).