Hedwig and the Angry Inch
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Hedwig and the Angry Inch.Belasco Theatre (see Broadway). Book by John Cameron Mitchell. Music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. Directed by Michael Mayer. With Neil Patrick Harris, Lena Hall. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: In brief
The omnitalented Neil Patrick Harris plays the titular crotch-botched German rock singer in the first Broadway production of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's genre-bending 1998 rock musical. Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) directs.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Review by David Cote
Transitioning from child star to adult gay icon, sitcom prince and social-media wizard, Neil Patrick Harris always seemed to be a cultural rock star. But in his latest reinvention, it turns out that the actor is, y’know, an actual rock star. As the imperious, spurned, fright-bewigged, sweaty glitterbomb at the heart of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Harris makes Broadway rock harder than it ever has before.
It’s tough to tell who’s the vehicle here—Hedwig or Harris? Is the celebrity using John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s quintessential millennial hit to reboot an East Coast profile, or do the producers of prickly material need star wattage to sell its harsh, sticky truths about desire and damage? Let’s opt for symbiosis, one of the major obsessions of this magnificent monster: Harris and Hedwig are one.
In fact, its essential drama is derived from the splitting of one being into two, per Plato’s Symposium. In the ancient Greek text, Aristophanes explains that humans were first androgynes. Zeus split them up, and thus love and sexual difference were born. Erotic desire springs from a wound. In turn, East German–born Hedwig tells, in monologue and song, of her botched gender-reassignment surgery, leaving her with a genital nub—the angry inch—a name she bestows on her band. The performance is framed as a revenge set aimed at golden-boy rocker and ex-beau Tommy Gnosis, who is performing in Times Square. Hedwig and her band, including passive-aggressive hubby Yitzhak (Hall, affectingly shy but iron-voiced), are playing on the set of recently closed Hurt Locker: The Musical, thanks to Hedwig’s, er, oral argument with a Shubert executive.
Mitchell juices his 1998 script with topical jabs: dating sites, TMZ and Mark Rylance, while Harris winks at some of the ephemera that remain embedded in the lyrics. Director Michael Mayer expertly balances the needs of a messy, punk protest with jaw-dropping visuals (Julian Crouch's mock-Broadway set design decays brilliantly). If a nostalgic note sounds between the ecstatic power-pop numbers (Trask’s glam-rock tunes still induce euphoria), that’s perfect for a diva dying to put herself back together.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote