BWW Reviews: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH Rocks HMAC
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH is no easy show. First staged in 1998 Off-Broadway by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, it was developed by them through a series of nightclub shows, staged as band sets. So is the final work, which is vastly different from the film starring Mitchell, if that's the only version you know. It did win the Outer Critics Circle award as well as a Village Voice Obie, and deservedly so - it's a tightly condensed story, in one long club set, of love, multiple forms of loss, and deserved and deliberate anger.
It's just been done, in only two performances, which is vastly insufficient for the great work of this production, at Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center. Given Dustin LeBlanc's tight direction and Chad-Alan Carr's performance, it requires additional shows, even if elsewhere. Carr, as Hedwig, in what's in many respects a one-man (is that the right pronoun?) show, all but bled on the pavement in an unbridled range of emotion across the stage. Hedwig has been played Off-Broadway by Michael Ceveris, Anthony Rapp, and even (but why?) Ally Sheedy; although Carr is no Michael Ceveris - who is? - he's better than fine in the lead and almost only role, working his way through love, anger at botched medicine, at international politics, at the ex who stole Hedwig's music and struck it far, far bigger, and bewilderment at Hedwig's husband Yitzhak, the ex-drag-star turned husband, backup singer, and gofer forced to listen to Hedwig rant and display a clearly still extant love for Tommy Speck-rechristened Tommy Gnosis, the rock star who done her very, very wrong.
Lindsay Bretz-Morgan shines in her backup role as Yitzhak, working her way through Hedwig's nightclub-set-turned monologous tale of her botched sex-change, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and her love for and betrayal by fellow musician Tommy. The restraint of her acting is notable in a show in which, to be noticed in the background, it's hard to avoid the urge to chomp scenery. It's a fine balance to Carr's necessarily over-the-top Hedwig, who wants the audience not only to know but to understand her anger at her current existence and her rage at her betrayal by Tommy Gnosis, who's playing next door (or in this case, over at The Farm Show).
LeBlanc's managed to keep a tight rein on what easily could go too loose as a show given its structure, and Carr and Bretz-Morgan are notable singers, Carr especially fine on "The Origin of Love," the retelling of Plato's tale of separation of genders, and "Wig in a Box" and "Wicked Little Town." The backup band performing as "The Angry Inch" is also fine, and was definitely on fire this past weekend (January 17 and 18), causing the major flaw in this production: the sound balance. As with too many nightclub performances, the band frequently overshadowed the lyrics to the point of inaudibility - clubgoers may not care, but the lyrics in a musical, even a rock one, are necessary to the plot.
Nonetheless, the overall production is definitely worthy of additional performances, whether at HMAC or another venue. The director and lead performers have put some of their best work into this production.
The question's arisen - is the show too edgy for Central Pennsylvania? Really, we've survived and enjoyed productions of SPRING AWAKENING now; is the tale of Hedwig's sex-change-gone-wrong, and of her former relationship with the teen Tommy Speck, any more scandalous? Is the music any more difficult than that for audiences raised on OKLAHOMA and HELLO DOLLY? That's doubtful. Perhaps the most difficult thing about it is its performance as a long club set rather than as a traditionally structured musical, which format SPRING AWAKENING still preserves. There are those who will never enjoy a rock musical, whether RENT or HEDWIG, and those who will never appreciate overt sexual content - but some of the best traditional Broadway musicals were scandalous in their day. PAL JOEY wasn't free of controversy. And we fail to appreciate in this day just how suggestively THE MUSIC MAN, considered one of the most family-friendly and high-school-friendly shows around, can be read. LEGALLY BLONDE still raises hackles - why? HEDWIG is simply less immediately approachable in format, yet it's a form that is instinctively friendly to younger club-oriented audiences.