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Hedwig and the Angry Inch
National Tour
Review by Garrett Southerland

Also see Garrett's review of Intimate Apparel


Euan Morton
Photo by Joan Marcus
Before House Bill 2 in North Carolina put restroom policies for transgender people in the news, or shows like "Orange Is the New Black" featured transgender characters, there was a little Off-Broadway show that opened in 1998 called Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with music and lyrics by Steven Trask and book by John Cameron Mitchell, who also starred in the title role.

The show quickly developed a cult following and won the Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Off-Broadway Musical. Steeped in seventies glam rock and featuring one of the most unlikely stars, the musical was eventually made into a film (2001), winning Mitchell the Best Director award at the Sundance Film Festival. The musical was recently revived on Broadway with Neil Patrick Harris in the title role, winning a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. The production also won in the categories of Best Revival of a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Lena Hall in the role of Yitzhak.

In this touring production, the pre-show music from the stacks of amplifiers onstage along with the set, with drums, guitars, and keyboards set up in what looks like a landfill with a busted-up car as its centerpiece, make it clear this show is going to rock. Hedwig and her band, the Angry Inch, have been given a one-night-only opportunity to use this recently vacated theatre to do their show. Hedwig takes this chance to tell her life story through songs and monologues.

Born and raised in East Berlin late in the Cold War, a boy named Hansel longs for anything other than what he has with his cruel single mother. Hansel's chance to escape to the United States comes at the cost of "leaving something of himself behind," and without getting too specific, "the angry inch" is a reference to the aftermath of a botched sex change operation.

Years later in Junction City, Kansas, divorced and disillusioned, Hedwig finds solace in glam drag, including some of the most sculptural wigs you will ever see. She forms a band and befriends the brother of a child whom she babysits. Hedwig will launch that unsuspecting boy to stardom as Tommy Gnosis, whose stadium concert next door to the theatre serves as an ongoing reminder of Hedwig's reversals. She soldiers on, assisted by her new husband Yitzhak, with whom she has the most codependent of relationships. Before the evening is over there will be revelations and humiliations, difficult truths and, perhaps surprisingly, tender catharsis.

Michael Mayer seems quite at home directing Hedwig and the Angry Inch, having previously directed the rock musicals American Idiot and Spring Awakening, the latter winning him the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical. A slightly updated book by Mayer and Mitchell works in some more recent cultural references, many of them jokes seemingly ad- libbed by Hedwig. The show is truly Hedwig's, and in this case Euan Morton's (Tony-nominated for his role in the Boy George musical Taboo), who commands the stage and sings with perfection. Morton understands how to gauge an audience, even one that may not have completely understood what they were getting themselves into.

Hannah Corneau as Yitzhak has the opportunity to show off both her growly alto and her beautiful soprano voice and makes the most of a significant supporting role. The Angry Inch, consisting of Skszp (Justin Craig), Jacek (Matt Duncan), Krzysztof (Tim Mislock), and Schlatko (Dylan Fusillo), rock out with authenticity.

Trask's music evokes the range of seventies styles, with its sweet melodies and its rock edge. Arianne Phillips reprises many of her costume designs from the film; they are magnificent in every detail. The importance of Mike Potter's wig and makeup design cannot be understated and must be seen to be believed. Kevin Adams returns, having designed the lighting design for the original 1998 production and the Broadway production, for which he was Tony nominated. Though beautiful and effective in creating mood and enhancing story, the lights at times could be almost blinding, leaving one squinting to see the stage. A highlight of this new production is the projections work by Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions and animation by Phosphene/John Bair, which incorporate sequences from the film.

Whether you were a fan of the original production or of the film version, or if this is your first encounter with Hedwig, this touring production caters to all. Though it has been almost twenty years since this musical debuted, the rawness of the show's material and the strangely heart-tugging character of Hedwig retain their power. The show's irreverence is only transcended by its effectiveness in challenging and changing minds of theatregoers, asking them to sympathize with a character they might otherwise have scorned.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is presented by SunTrust Broadway, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham, NC 27701 through February 5th, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at www.DPACnc.com, www.ticketmaster.com, or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person or by phone at 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit hedwigbroadway.com.

Music and Lyrics and Orchestrations: Stephen Trask
Book: John Cameron Mitchell
Director: Michael Mayer
Musical Staging: Spencer Liff
Scenic Design: Julian Crouch
Costume Design: Arianne Phillips
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Hair and Makeup Design: Mike Potter
Sound Design: Timothy O'Heir
Projections Design: Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions
Animation: Phosphene/ John Bair

Cast:
Hedwig: Euan Morton
Yitzhak: Hannah Corneau
Skszp (Music Director, Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals): Justin Craig
Jacek (Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals): Matt Duncan
Krzysztof (Guitar, Vocals): Tim Mislock
Schlatko (Drums, Vocals): Dylan Fusillo

Photo by: Joan Marcus/ Pictured: Euan Morton


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