BY TANYA GAZDIK, ENCORE MICHIGAN
DETROIT – I saw a low-budget production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch a few years ago at a small local theater. While the acting was good, it was like day and night compared to the over-the-top Broadway extravaganza which just opened at the Fisher Theatre.
Every element of this production shined from beginning to end. The acting is top-notch. The singing is amazing. The costumes (especially the wigs!) are incredible. The set is over-the-top. I’m a critic, I need to find something to criticize, but I am really coming up short. So fire me, I guess. If spared from my duties, I might just become a Hedwig groupie and follow the show from city to city.
Directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer, it is the story of one of the most unique characters to ever hit the stage. “Internationally ignored song stylist” Hedwig Robinson, who is out to set the record straight about her life, her loves, and the botched operation that left her with that “angry inch.”
Rolling Stone called Hedwig “the best rock musical ever.” That’s high praise. While I’ve not seen every rock musical that ever was, Hedwig is right up there with two of the other most popular ones which I have seen multiple times: Rent and Hair. There’s a reason this show has a cult following. The songs are catchy, the story is compelling and there’s plenty of camp to spare.
I’m not really sure whether to call Hedwig “him” or “her.” Normally, it’s polite to call drag queens “she,” but he presents as a gay male, and refers to himself as originally a “slip of a girly boy,” who only had the surgery in order to present as female and escape communist East Berlin with his first husband, Luther Robinson, a serviceman. As for the drag, he has the mannerisms down perfectly, including the hilarious and frequent insults to the audience, who nervously laughs in fear of being next to take a hit.
The winner of four 2014 Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival, Hedwig and the Angry Inch has been dubbed brilliant, heartbreaking and mischievously funny. The Detroit show hit all those high notes. It runs a very quick 90 minutes with no intermission. While some audience members might have a difficult time going that long without a bathroom break, there’s a reason for the straight-thru performance. The energy builds throughout the show. An intermission would seriously disrupted the flow and eventual climax.
Tony and Olivier Award-nominated Euan Morton plays Hedwig and he couldn’t be any better suited for the role. Morton originated the role of Boy George in the musical Taboo in London and New York, garnering Tony and Olivier Award nominations and receiving the Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut. His command of gold platform boots is astonishing. He dances up and down on the bumper, hood and roof of the beaten-up car that occupies center stage with incredible grace, all the while sporting short skirts and the elaborate and no-doubt very heavy wigs.
Hannah Corneau, who plays Hedwig’s husband, Yitzhakt, makes her Broadway National Touring debut. Although she has limited dialogue, she manages to express many emotions via facial expressions. She has the voice of an angel, even though her character is a man. The character truly blooms at the end of the show, when she/he finally is allowed to shine in the gender she/he prefers. The rest of the cast — members of Hedwig’s band, called “The Angry Inch” — all originated their roles on Broadway and several play in rock bands when not on Broadway.
There are some nice local references incorporated into the show which make you feel like you were watching a concert and not a play. Hedwig talks to the audience in between songs and at one point references the Motown Museum and its “gender neutral bathroom.”
There are some serious and poignant moments, particularly when Hedwig laments about finding his “other half,” but this is by far a comedy and a musical. It’s bawdy and there are many blowjob jokes, so leave the kids at home. And leave your preconceived notions about gender identity at home, while you’re at it. You won’t be sorry you did. As one theatre-goer observed on the way out of the theatre on opening night: “Mind. Officially. Blown.”
Hedwig and The Angry Inch is at the Fisher Theatre now through March 5. Tickets are on sale at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 800-982-2787, online at http://www.broadwayindetroit.com or http://www.ticketmaster.com, and at the Fisher Theatre Box Office. Tickets start at $39.
BY TANYA GAZDIK, ENCORE MICHIGAN