Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Have no fear, the musical by John Cameron Mitchell (book and the original Hedwig) and Stephen Trask (music and lyrics) retains its gaudy and confrontational edge despite the elegant setting. Euan Morton anchors the proceedings with a muscular, indomitable performance as the genderqueer "internationally ignored" rocker searching for recognition and wholeness. Morton has a supple voice that belts out raucous songs like "Tear Me Down" as well as it handles ballads like "The Origin of Love."
As on Broadway, the performance takes place on Julian Crouch's scenic design of rubble and a burned-out car, described as the set from a musical version of The Hurt Locker that closed at intermission the previous night. (Audience members, look on the floor for scattered fake Playbills from the show that never was. It's worth it.) Kevin Adams' lighting design zaps the audience with blasts of colored light, some of which suggest bullets, and Tim O'Heir's overpowering sound design is worthy of a more traditional rock venue.
Hedwig has a singular story, which she shares with the audience. She grew up a "girly boy" named Hansel, born in the former East Berlin, who attracted the attention of an American soldier. Following a botched gender reassignment surgery (the "angry inch") and marriage to the soldier, Hedwig finds herself abandoned in a Midwestern trailer park near an Army base. She begins singing 1970s pop songs in a local coffeehouse and befriends the son of a general. In fact, the entire purpose of Hedwig's current performance is to get revenge on her former protégé, who stole her songs and became the star Hedwig never could be.
All that makes the show sound much more ponderous and pretentious than it is. Michael Mayer's fluid direction prevents the performance from dragging, underscored by the onstage band led by Justin Craig and given dramatic ballast by Hannah Corneau as Yitzhak, Hedwig's put-upon backup singer and husband who has gender issues of his own. Arianne Phillips has designed resplendent costumes and Mike Potter created the wigs and makeup.