Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Belasco Theatre
New York, NY
You'll ooh and ahh with everyone else in the Belasco Theatre when Neil Patrick Harris floats down to the stage in spectacular glittering blonde brilliance and torn fishnets.  Harris is magnetic as Hedwig, the ''internationally ignored'' transgender punk rocker in wsqigHedwig and the Angry Inch.  Singer/songwriter Hedwig was surgically damaged, but hides her pain by blasting songs of anger and wearing splendiferous wigs by Mike Potter and costumer Arianne Phillips’ incisively edgy rags.

John Cameron Mitchell originally produced the musical in 1998.  With a score by Stephen Trask, Hedwig began downtown, moved to world-wide stagings, a movie version and is now gathering wildly enthusiastic audiences on Broadway with a slightly more satirical edge.  Harris is charismatic, always on the move, teasing audience members, climbing the walls, model-strutting, posing, giving a lap dance or two.  He tells Hedwig's tale, a raunchy musical monologue with some deadpan asides by Hedwig's lover/sideman, Yitzhak (excellent Lena Hall), dressed as a man until... well, wait for the finale.

Starting with his girly-boy days as Hansel in East Germany before the wall came down, Hansel becomes Hedwig after undergoing surgery to make him a woman.  Unfortunately, the cuts go wrong, "Now all I got is a Barbie Doll-crotch/ I got an angry inch/ Six inches forward and five inches back." (“Angry Inch”).  The plot, animated by Trask's intense songs, follows the furious Hedwig on her rocky road from Berlin to America, memories of her mother, her lost penis, but armed with some treasured wigs.  A low point comes when Hedwig's talent is stolen by a teenage husband who uses her songs to become a star himself.  Abandoned in a trailer park, she is left turning to the “Wig in a Box,” and plaintive "Wicked Little Town,"  plaintive with haunting lines, "The fates are vicious and they're cruel. You learn too late you've used two wishes like a fool."

Director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) keeps the vibe menacing and Harris's physical energy and dark, unwavering humor are galvanizing.  Hedwig is constantly on stage with Yitzhak and the kick-ass band, "The Angry Inch" (Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Tim Mislock and Peter Yanowitz).  Trask's red-letter eclectic mix of songs take charge right from the top as Hedwig appears with an audacious “I’m the new Berlin Wall,” she cries, “Try and tear me down!”  They continue with traces of the '60s soundtrack into the '90s.

Harris reveals moments of the outlandish Hedwig's vulnerability and a sadness wafts through the show's theatricality and musical energy.  At the landmark Belasco Theatre, Hedwig razzes his one-night-only Broadway venue after all the dives he's played, quipping that the theater is using the left-over set from Hurt Locker: The Musical, which closed during intermission. (This never really opened.)  Not that Julian Crouch's set is glamorous, looking like Berlin after the war, with bombed walls, burned cars and projections by Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions.

A rock concert with a slim storyline, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is all in the driving music of insurgent fury knocked home in a full-steam dynamic delivery by Neil Patrick Harris.  Once again, Harris proves that he can do no wrong.

(Photo: Lena Hall and Neil Patrick Harris by Joan Marcus)

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cabaret Scenes
April 23, 2014
www.cabaretscenes.org