Review Roundup: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Neil Patrick Harris returns to Broadway in the new production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the musical with book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, directed by Michael Mayer. The limited engagement, featuring Lena Hall (Kinky Boots, lead singer of The Deafening), opens tonight, April 22 at the Belasco Theatre.
The creative team for Hedwig and the Angry Inch features Emmy Award nominee Spencer Liff (musical staging), Drama Desk Award winner Julian Crouch (scenic design), two-time Oscar nominee Arianne Phillips (costume design), three-time Tony Award winner Kevin Adams (lighting design), Mike Potter (hair and makeup design), platinum-selling record producer Timothy O'Heir (sound design), Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions (projection design), Tony and Grammy Award nominee Ethan Popp (music supervisor & music coordinator), Justin Craig (music director) and more.
"Internationally ignored song stylist" Hedwig Robinson (Neil Patrick Harris) brings her fourth-wall-smashing rock and roll saga to New York to set the record straight about her life, her loves, and the botched operation that left her with that "angry inch."
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Do not be alarmed by recent reports that Neil Patrick Harris, an irresistibly wholesome television presence, has fallen deeply and helplessly into the gap that separates men from women, East from West, and celebrity from notoriety. There's no need to fear for his safety, much less his identity. Quite the contrary. Playing an "internationally ignored song stylist" of undefinable gender in"Hedwig and the Angry Inch," Mr. Harris is in full command of who he is and, most excitingly, what he has become with this performance. That's a bona fide Broadway star, the kind who can rule an audience with the blink of a sequined eyelid...And while Mr. Harris may let you see him sweat as he struts, slithers and leaps through this shamelessly enjoyable show, rousingly directed by Michael Mayer ("Spring Awakening," "American Idiot"), he never makes it feel like heavy lifting.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: It's obvious from the first moments of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" that star Neil Patrick Harris is doing something special. And it's not just trying on a new role...Before our eyes, Harris is opening another chapter in his exceptional show business career with this 90-minute show and he simply crushes it, holding nothing back, softening no edges, making no nice...Harris sings with real feeling, whether it's a torch song on a stool while dressed in a little cocktail dress or rocking out a head-banging tune by attacking the scenery...it will come as no surprise that while Hall has an understudy, Harris does not. And that's perfectly right: Rarely does a role fit a performer so well. Harris is funny, twisted, poignant, outrageous, bizarre, silly and very, very human.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: The big question from the start was could Neil Patrick Harris sing the hard-driving glam rock-meets-punk score of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And would the former Doogie Howser go as far out there as the title role of the embittered East German singer with the botched sex-reassignment surgery demands? The swift answer on both counts is that Harris is beyond fabulous, holds nothing back and plays it any way but safe in Michael Mayer's exhilarating production...Harris smoothly marries Borscht Belt shtick with a self-serious songspiel style reminiscent of Ute Lemper, spicing his performance with improvisational touches and audience exchanges ranging from flirty asides to a lap-dance. Snugly encased in the character, he recounts the lurid specifics of Hedwig's life, exposing the scars of her painful past.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The screaming starts when a bespangled Neil Patrick Harris parachutes onstage in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and doesn't stop until he's back in his dressing room. That's the kind of rock-star performance he gives in this spectacular revival -- helmed with fabulous flash by Michael Mayer -- of the 1998 musical (and later movie) by John Cameron Mitchell (book) and Stephen Trask (music & lyrics). Harris' Hedwig is an imperfectly transformed transvestite who grew up in East Berlin before the wall came down, resplendent in the punk drag of a nihilistic rocker but still concealing a heap of hurt under her wig.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: This girl has been through a lot, and Harris, playing her, appears dressed for battle in glittery makeup, fishnet stockings and a gravity-defying blond wig. Over the next 95 minutes, though, Hedwig will slowly cast off her armor, and Harris will throw himself wholeheartedly, and with the full force of his gifts as an actor and showman, into her unsettling but ultimately exhilarating journey...Hedwig's tragicomic essence remains the same, and Harris, under Michael Mayer's razor-sharp direction, serves it with a blazingly entertaining and ultimately moving performance. The humor here is darker and rawer than the material that has endeared Harris to TV audiences, but he brings the same affable, slightly naughty charm -- only laced with the brittleness and jagged desperation you'd expect from someone who has been repeatedly betrayed by those she loves.
Linda Winer, Newsday: Harris, who has triumphed in serious musicals, light TV, and award-show hosting, may not be the strongest rock howler who ever sang Stephen Trask's thrashing, unpredictably touching songs. Nor is Harris, 40, the most effortless dancer to ever climb into the torn fishnets of John Cameron Mitchell's Obie-winning, transgender diva of a show. But he is extraordinarily lithe and buff, irresistibly endearing and way beyond merely game as Hedwig, who takes us on his journey of self-discovery in the guise of an autobiographical concert.
David Cote, Time Out NY: 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...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).
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: The main question I had going into "Hedwig" was how a show built on outsider-appeal and intimacy would play in a colossal Rialto venue, where just weeks ago Mark Rylance led a troupe of actors also cross-dressing ... but in the service Shakespeare. Harris quells any doubts just after his extraordinary entrance, via parachute...With respect due Harris, there's a tentativeness to his performance in the show's hallowed opening number, "Tear Me Down"--could jumping onto car bumpers in platform heels possibly distract him from singing? But what kinetic energy!...As with any piece that is essentially a straight monologue by a single person, there are places where "Hedwig" slows down. But "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is still the finest musical you're going to see this year about a transgendered Berliner with a chip on her shoulder, and it only further burnishes the crown on the head of the reigning king, and now queen of Broadway.
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: If your memory of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's brilliant 1988 rock musical, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," is that it works best in a grungy joint, ideally where the floors are sticky, the seats half-empty and the air heavy with tragedy...there is much about director Michael Mayer's new Broadway production, which fuses the character of Hedwig with a megawatt star and thus cures her desperation, to pull you up short...But there is no denying that Harris has thrown himself into the old girl, roaring through this 90 minutes with more tricks in his pants than Hedwig has sad yarns. And this is by no means an inauthentic piece of acting; on the contrary, Harris offers up a bravura, frequently thrilling, deeply committed, self-pushing performance that doubtless will introduce Hedwig, whose cult following was dwindling, to an entirely new generation.
Matt Windman, AM New York: Whereas the original production was set around a dingy ballroom and used little scenery, the Broadway revival, directed by Michael Mayer ("Spring Awakening"), acknowledges that it is taking place in a Broadway theater in the present day...While no one can doubt Harris' fierce theatricality, strong voice and expert handling of the comedy aspects, his Hedwig has yet to come together as a fully-developed, vulnerable character. But given the role's extreme complexity and grueling physical demands, that's more than understandable. Chances are that his performance will improve as the run continues...But as it is, this remains a wildly enjoyable production of one of the most exciting and inventive rock musicals of all time.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Transformation is tricky, sometimes even painful. But Broadway's sensational "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" starring a kick-ass Neil Patrick Harris is a reminder that change doesn't have to hurt. John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's raucous pop-rock musical -- a show with proudly ratty downtown roots and rabid fans -- survives and thrives uptown. Allegories are elastic, after all. And, yes, this frisky, unapologetically raunchy fable of love, loss, fury and freedom is flashier on the Great White Way thanks to director Michael Mayer's gleaming production...Lean and mean NPH throws himself into the role and against the walls with reckless flip-your-wig and in-your-face abandonment. And he summons the wounded spirit and sense of yearning to which everyone can relate. That carries us along and makes us care for this odd character.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Sometimes you wonder if there's anything Neil Patrick Harris can't do: He switches from "How I Met Your Mother" to singing Sondheim on Broadway, directing a magic show to hosting any award ceremony you throw at him. And he makes it all look easy. Except, that is, Broadway's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," in which he's working very hard -- and not just because he's onstage the entire show performing all of the songs. The strain we see is that of a show-tune guy trying on rock 'n' roll for size. That music's fury and danger don't come naturally to Harris, who fares a lot better in the show's more emotional scenes...Only when he finally clicks with the material -- as on the heartbreaking "Wig in a Box," about the process of becoming someone else -- is the show suddenly worth the effort he's poured into it.
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Just how edgy can Hedwig remain on the Great White Way? There is, after all, a bit of cognitive dissonance in a supposed outcast selling out a giant theater filled with fans screaming, ''I love you, Neil!'' While director Michael Mayer's tricked-out production abandons the show's seedy origins, there's still a satirical edge that reflects the more upscale venue...Purists may balk at Harris' punk-lite vocals on Trask's infectiously rockin' score -- he's less Iggy, more pop -- and his threats to ''cut you, bitch'' come off with more of a wink than actual menace. But in a bravura performance, the actor proves the perfect instrument for Hedwig's transition into world-class superstardom. He's honed his showmanship on four Tony Awards gigs, of course. But he's looser here, and lewder, more spontaneous and quick on his pumps. A-
Jesse Green, Vulture: At a certain point, though, even irony collapses under its own weight. If the current incarnation is a superb rendition of a furiously entertaining show with a heartwarming message -- that last phrase being one the authors would surely despise -- you understand as never before that Hedwig is built on a foundation of murk...Mitchell even manages, in his rewrites of the book, to rationalize the use of a venue that otherwise seems to contradict Hedwig's premise...But rationalized or not, the enormous scale and professionalism of Michael Mayer's production cuts two ways...Happily, Hedwig is plenty touching -- and fun -- most of the time. A lot of the credit obviously belongs to Harris, who has completely embraced the extreme challenges of the role in a career-redefining (and fat-burning) performance. His Hedwig is more in control of her attitude and effects than some previous Hedwigs have been; her hostility and pathos are, as he plays her, part of her shtick, not so much a sign of pathology. It's as if she's her own emcee, hosting her feelings rather than having them: a role for which Harris's Tony and Emmy Award gigs have prepared him well.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Hedwig, lead singer of the Angry Inch, is forever telling people how he gets down on his knees to give thanks. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" opened Tuesday on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre, and its creators, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, should get down on their four knees to thank star Neil Patrick Harris and director Michael Mayer...Mayer might have kept a touch of that low-rent tawdriness, but no matter. He goes for the Ziggy Stardust/David Bowie glam that inspires Hedwig, and so turns Mitchell and Trask's little tuner into a big Broadway extravaganza that burns as hot as a bruised bottom after an especially rough night of S&M sex...And there is Harris, first and foremost. His voice is ideal for the three or four notes of Trask's songs. He's edgy, angry, bitchy and also very funny.
Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: Audiences flocking to this 95-minute entertainment, with book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, may not think they have signed up for the first session of an undergraduate philosophy seminar. They have come to see Harris, a major American television star owing to How I Met Your Mother, give glam rock a workout. But the evening, even with the longueurs of its storytelling, manages to make us think about not just gender-based aspects of love but also the cold war, cheap American pop music, and the price of fame...A veteran not only of sitcoms but also of gender-bending stage shows such as Rent and Cabaret, Harris is ideally experienced to deliver Hedwig's low jokes as well as its rock 'n' roll kick-outs and tearful ballads.
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: Everyone knows Neil Patrick Harris is a versatile actor and singer. But in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," which opened Tuesday night at the Belasco Theatre, his performance profile takes a visceral leap forward. As Hedwig, a (mostly) transgendered East German rock singer, he gives one of the Broadway season's fiercest, most compelling - and funniest - portrayals.
Alex Soloski, Guardian: Plays based on philosophical symposia don't come louder, lewder or more gorgeously original than Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Inspired by a Socratic dialogue on the nature of love, this concert-style musical, with book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, concerns Hedwig, a "slip of a girly boy" from East Germany who is brought to America as an army bride. Hedwig discovers a talent for songwriting and launches the career of a teen idol, who then rebuffs her. The Angry Inch is her surly Croatian band - as well as her sobriquet for the results of a botched sex-change operation.
David Finkle, Huffington Post: Shaping all this, Mayer does his usual skillful work. He takes on Hedwig and the Angry Inch after putting Spring Awakening and American Idiot on their feet -- and on their feat. It's tempting to say -- and I'm giving in to the temptation -- that with his third obvious click, he's made himself our foremost director of rock musicals. Over the last several decades, too many of the so-called rock musicals have merely been ersatz. Mayer is expert at the real thing. The closing number "Midnight Radio" exhorts everyone to "lift up your hands." Not only will many Hedwig and the Angry Inch audience members lift up their hands, they'll eagerly and happily put then together for sustained applause.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus