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Hedwig and the Angry Inch

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Saturday Jun 3, 2017
Euan Morton
Euan Morton  (Source:Joan Marcus)

What becomes a legend most?

In the case of Hedwig Robinson, the internationally ignored genderqueer chanteuse, it is returning to the limelight Broadway-styled after nearly 20 years. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," her musical biographical rant, first appeared in a dingy welfare hotel auditorium in 1998 with mismatched chairs and plaster falling out of its proscenium with its creator John Cameron Mitchell in the role. With pulsing pop/rock songs by Stephen Trask, "Hedwig" became such a long-running hit that when it finally made it to Broadway in 2014, it was considered a revival despite never having been uptown before.

Not that Hedwig was (or is) a household name. A bit of tabloid notoriety involving a famous rock star has allowed her "15 minutes of fame" (or in today's vernacular, her "whodom"), and she plans to exploit it by telling her side of the story in an impromptu performance on the set of a recently closed musical, "The Hurt Locker."


Euan Morton  

Just the idea of a musical version of "The Hurt Locker" should turn you in to the snarky humor that drives this smart, hilarious and emotionally resonant musical about this "slip of a girlyboy" who after a botched sex-change operation becomes Hedwig. Hans, as he was known in East Berlin in the 1980s, attracts the eye of an American GI who agrees to marry him and take him to the West, but with a catch that is alluded to in the pun of the show's title. The Angry Inch is the five-member band performing with her (excellent, by the way), as well as the mound of flesh where Hans's penis once was.

Renaming himself Hedwig, he moves to the Midwest with her GI to become a housewife. When the Berlin Wall comes down a year later, Hedwig is divorced and broke, taking her wig out of her box to work checkout on the midnight shift at a convenience store. But she still dreams of fame and performs at a small coffee shop where a teenage boy, Tommy Speck, sees her. How Hedwig and Tommy bond and create the rock superstar Tommy Gnossis becomes the thrust of the story, which becomes a surprisingly moving expression of self-acceptance.

It also offers a spectacular turn for actor Euan Morton. The big question behind Broadway-sizing "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is will it be overwhelmed? What made it so special when it played off-Broadway was its intimacy. Can that be retained in a bigger house? The answer came when the show went to Broadway three years ago, winning a Tony Awards for Best Revival (despite never playing Broadway before) and for Neil Patrick Harris. As directed by Michael Mayer, this "Hedwig" was shrewdly reconceived with its bigger moments punctuated with set that features the bombed out carcus of an AMC Gremlin that rises up in a dramatic moment, wigs that drop from the flies, seamless projections and dynamic lighting. Opened up, this "Hedwig" soars.


Hannah Corneau and Euan Morton  

At first Morton is broadly campy, playing with the audience with his loosely-knit stand-up routine that pokes fun of such celebrities as Darren Criss (who preceded him in the role on the tour) and Melania Trump, as well as her own tabloid-driven celebrity. The Teutonic sang-froid that Mitchell brought to the role is lessened here; though the sardonic humor lands squarely. Morton's Hedwig is both self-absorbed and self-aware, sarcastically abusing her sideman and husband Yitzhak (the remarkable, sure voiced Hannah Corneau) with full awareness of doing so. For Hedwig it is all about the control, despite the fact she has little outside her small world.

It's when the musical turns to the story of Tommy Gnossis that Morton comes into his own, segueing into his other half for the show's final moments for a heart-rending reprise of "Wicked Little Town," the song Hedwig and Tommy had collaborated on. Never before has the story come together quite as effectively as it does in this production, or as movingly as when Hedwig finds his true self in the final moments.

For those who have never met Hedwig, then check out this splendid production; and those who know Hedwig from previous encounters, be prepared to see a sharply realized production that gives Hedwig her 90-minutes of fame. In the end, be prepared to laugh, as she does, through the tears.

And be sure to pick up one of the discarded programs to "The Hurt Locker" on the floor of the theater, another clever touch to this superbly realized production.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues through June 11 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the Boch Center Shubert Theatre website.


Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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