Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Ray of Light Theatre
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of A Doll's House, Part 2, On Your Feet!, and The Phantom of the Opera and Jeanie's reviews of The Naked Truth, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and A Chorus Line


Coleton Schmitto and the Band
Photo by Alexander Belmont
The story of Hedwig Robinson (née Hansel Schmidt) is not a happy one. Growing up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, Hansel is "rescued" by an American GI who promises to marry him—but, since obtaining a license involves a medical exam, Hansel must "give up a little part" of himself. But the East German sex change operation is botched, her husband divorces her, and after some years making ends meet in a Kansas trailer park babysitting and "doing those jobs we call 'blow'," Hedwig (Coleton Schmitto) ultimately becomes an "internationally ignored song stylist" who tours with her band, The Angry Inch (remember the botched operation?), playing downscale dives while the little boy she babysat grows up to be a stadium-filling rock star named Tommy Gnosis—who just happens to have stolen all of Hedwig's best songs.

A sad story, indeed. But what a happy time for the audiences at Ray of Light Theatre's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. For, in the guise of a rock show, Hedwig and her band tear through a set of terrific songs, while Hedwig tells us the sad story of her life, throws plenty of shade, and occasionally opens the fire exit door so we can hear bits of Tommy Gnosis's banter at his concert across town at AT&T Park and feel Hedwig's wrath at the boy who stole both her heart and her music.

I was fortunate enough to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch in its original incarnation at the Jane Street Theatre in New York, some 20 years ago, and then again in 2014 during a Broadway run starring Neil Patrick Harris. Though it may lack the grit and passion of the original Off-Broadway production, or the (chipped) polish of the Broadway run, Ray of Light's take is just as entertaining, just as fun, and just as wicked.

First, the Victoria Theatre is an absolutely perfect venue. (Except for the acoustics, but more on that in a bit.) Its beat-down griminess and slightly sketchy location make it the exact sort of place Hedwig's band would have played. Hedwig even has a marvelous time ragging on the venue, spending some moments reading what she purports to be actual Yelp reviews of the place.

As Hedwig, Coleton Schmitto works the room like the seasoned (if beat down), professional performer she has been forced to become. She and her new husband Yitzhak (an excellent Maya Michal Sherer) share the stage, but Hedwig is careful to keep Yitzhak's light under a bushel, at one point even stealing Yitzhak's mic so Hedwig can sing into both. (Not to worry, Yitzhak will have his moments to shine in the show's second half.) Schmitto could work to find a bit more righteous vitriol in her attacks on Tommy Gnosis, but otherwise, her sass is usually right on target.

The band (Steven Bolinger, Lysol Tony-Romeo, Diogo Zavadzki, David Walker) provide a dirty, driving sound that may be a bit loose at times, but it seems to fit nicely with Hedwig's slightly unhinged persona and the gritty backdrop of the Victoria. The rhythm section—bassist Lysol Tony-Romeo (a "goth Josh Groban" in Hedwig's words) and drummer David Walker—are especially to be congratulated for keeping the proceedings pulsating with energy and anger.

Co-directors Sailor Galaviz and Jason Hoover maintain the low-rent, DIY aesthetic throughout the production. They create opportunities to bring the show into the audience (the Victoria is already an intimate venue, but for this show they almost erase the line between stage and audience) and provide several bits of ultra-cheap stagecraft—that would be weird and out of place in virtually any other show, but are perfect here. Case in point: the overhead projector used for graphics, and upon which Yitzhak creates real-time "animations" to accompany some of the songs, most notably the sad and lovely "Origin of Love." Sadly, the sound in the Victoria is muddy. Whether this is due to acoustics, or poor sound design or mixing, I can't tell. Whatever the reason, it makes it hard to distinguish lyrics or properly highlight solos.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of the greatest rock musicals ever written. Songs like "Wicked Little Town," "Wig in a Box," "Sugar Daddy," and "Midnight Radio" do just what a musical's songs are supposed to do: reveal character, advance the plot, and—most important—move and entertain us. Ray of Light has done a brilliant job of staying true to the outré, downscale aesthetic of Hedwig and the Angry Inch—and Bay Area audiences should be very happy about that. Even if Hedwig herself isn't.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, through October 6, 2018, at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00p.m., with a 5:00p.m. matinee on Saturday, September 29 and October 6. Tickets are $15-40, and are available at www.rayoflighttheatre.com.


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