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BWW Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at Portland Center Stage

BWW Review: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at Portland Center Stage

Clear your Thursday afternoons, friends, because that's just about the only time you can still get tickets to cult classic HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at Portland Center Stage. These are tickets you'll definitely want to snag. Directed by Chip Miller and starring Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr. and Ithica Tell, this glam rock concert musical delivers the goods -- it's a kickass testament to self-acceptance and a reminder that the world is a lot less binary than we try to make it.

The show is staged as a concert, with Hedwig singing original songs interspersed with the story of her life. And quite a life she's had! She was born in East Germany as Hansel, the son of a single mother who spent most of his time listening to American rock music on the radio. As a young man, Hansel caught the eye of an American G.I. named Luther, who wanted to marry him and take him to the United States. But, getting immigration papers required a full physical, so Hansel become Hedwig. However, the sex change operation was botched, leaving her with an "angry inch."

Shortly after returning to America, Luther abandoned Hedwig, and she found herself living in a Kansas trailer park. Through one of her odd jobs, Hedwig meets Tommy and they start to write songs together. But he's a conservative Christian and can't accept her genderqueer identity, so he takes the songs and leaves Hedwig behind. Fast forward a few years and Tommy is playing huge arenas while Hedwig and her band, "The Angry Inch," are relegated to rundown establishments, like the old Chili's in an abandoned mall that is the setting for the PCS production.

That may seem like a lot of spoilers, but if you're familiar with Hedwig, you know that the plot is not the point. What is the point is Hedwig's journey toward accepting and loving herself for exactly who she is.

I've heard stories of some legendary HEDWIG productions here in Portland in the past. Though I wasn't lucky enough to see any of them, I predict that this production will join their ranks. First, for mainstream theatre audiences, HEDWIG is still edgy -- certainly the edgiest thing that PCS has produced in the several years since I've been here.

But, most importantly, this production will be talked about as Curtis's breakout performance. He had me in a trance from the moment he appeared in full glam rock glory -- with sky-high hair (rolled around pop cans!) and impossibly tall boots -- descending the broken escalator like a god coming down to Earth to lay some knowledge on us mere mortals. His voice is god-like as well. He slays Stephen Trask's score (which Time Magazine called, "The most exciting rock score written for the theatre since, oh, ever!"), from the quiet thoughtful moments to the loud blow-the-roof-off rock and roll bliss.

With Hedwig's personality taking up almost the entire stage, there isn't much room left for Yitzhak, Hedwig's manager and helper of sorts. But Ithica Tell does a remarkable job in the role of not only claiming space, but creating a complete and complex character. Her rendition of "The Long Grift" is just one of the show's many chill-inducing moments.

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH is officially the first must-see show of 2020. It runs through Feb. 23. More details and tickets here.

Photo credit: Owen Carey/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory

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