Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Aladdin
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is set at a modestly attended rock concert performance by mediocre glamour rock gal Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch. Hedwig tells her story through song and dialogue, tracing her life as a young German boy, the product of an uncaring mother and an American GI who left them. Growing up confused and consoled mostly by listening to Armed Forces radio (inside his oven!), the adolescent is befriended by another American GI, who wishes to marry him and carry him off to America. However, a sex change operation is required first. Unfortunately, the procedure is botched and all that is left is a one-inch piece of useless flesh (the "angry inch").
After coming to America, Hedwig is divorced, living in a Kansas trailer park as a woman, and performing in seedy dives and Sizzlers, backed by Asian military wives. She finds her soul mate in a young musician named Tommy Gnosis. However, when Tommy can't handle Hedwig's sexual peculiarities, Tommy leaves and uses the songs they wrote together to become a huge rock star (who happens to be performing down the street to thousands at Great American Ballpark).
The well-written dialogue and book is by John Cameron Mitchell, who played Hedwig in the original production that ran Off-Broadway and in the film version. It's funny, biting, and sardonic, but also shows the pain, confusion, and anger felt by the lead character. The score by Stephen Trask is an effective mix of various rock styles. While not in the classic musical theater style, these rocking tunes show Hedwig's emotions, and the lyrics effectively tell her unique story. "Wig in a Box" effectively conveys Hedwig's mundane life in Kansas, and "Wicked Little Town", "The Long Grift," and "Midnight Radio" are first rate songs for lovers of rock or theater music.
As he did in 2001 and 2003, CCM grad and New York City based artist (composer, accompanist, playwright, actor) Todd Almond embodies the "internationally ignored" musician with the energy, humor, emotional depth, and appropriate level of camp required for the role. He sings the score with great power and control, toys with the audience (often adding in hilarious adlibs along with the occasional barb toward audience members), and forces the audience to care about this odd character. As Hedwig's husband Yitzhak, a. Beth Harris brings a beautiful and complementary singing voice and effective acting to the difficult role and is likewise back for a third trip on this journey. The Angry Inch consists of Josh Pilot, Tim Seiwert, Billy Alletzhauser, Sam Womelsdoft, and Andrew Smithson.
Director D. Lynn Meyers again presents Hedwig and the Angry Inch with great humor and the necessary depth to make it a true theatrical piece rather than just a rock concert with a story, and has a few new twists and turns this time around.
Brian C. Mehring has created an apt second-rate rock concert venue just right for an appearance by Hedwig and her band. His lighting and scenic design include the back stage door that, when opened, allows the audience to hear the Tommy Gnosis concert down the street, as well an authentic rock 'n' roll lighting display. The back wall is designed to resemble the Berlin Wall, which is referenced often in the show, and a projection of a single, moving eyeball works well in the tone of the piece. The costumes by Stormie Mac and wigs and make-up by Raven D. Payne are appropriately funky and campy. The sound by Matt Callahan is well-balanced and significantly better than the original 2001 production, which was far too loud.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati's Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a vibrant, smart, and hilarious exploration into the life of this fictional rocker and satisfies in every way.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, through July 1, 2018, at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 127 Vine St., Cincinnati OH. For more information, visit www.ensemblecincinnati.org or call 513-421-3555.