Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
Through November 27th
When a tale that features a botched sex-change operation, plenty of blow job references and raunchy audience interaction can fill the generally conservative Pantages, something special must be happening.
The special thing is John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is sui generis — a unique show that celebrates its difference in a way that effectively breaks down cultural barriers. The current Broadway touring production, starring Darren Criss in a bravura performance, is smart and dazzling entertainment.
Hedwig (Criss) and her band, The Angry Inch, are performing in front of a set for The Hurt Locker: The Musical, a show which has closed. Hedwig is telling her life story to the crowd, as follows: As Hansel, born in East Berlin when the Wall was still up, the singer fell for an American G.I., and was convinced of the need for a sex change so he could marry and go to America. Unfortunately, the operation went poorly, and a year after Hansel, now a transgendered woman, got to the U.S., the soldier abandoned her. Left on her own, she created the stage persona of Hedwig, and helped build the career of rock superstar Tommy Gnosis, whose lack of acknowledgement of her help has left her bitter and angry.
Criss is impressive as Hedwig, channeling Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show and Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie. While he nails the pathos, he is also particularly good with the frequent off-color one-liners — a Jack Benny with dick jokes. He has charisma to spare, using it to electrify such numbers as “Sugar Daddy” and “Angry Inch,” and appearing to morph into a completely different actor when he depicts Gnosis in one number toward the end of the show. Lena Hall is quite good as Hedwig’s husband, Yitzhak, and displays a lovely voice whenever Hedwig will let her use it.
Michael Mayer’s direction is superb, essentially taking what might just be a concert and turning it in something truly theatrical. From transforming the wartime Hurt Locker set into a Hollywood Bowl type venue, through the use of many tiny lights (evoking a sea of cigarette lighters held aloft), to the huge animated prop of mannequin heads nodding in time in the “Wig in a Box” number, Mayer keeps charging things up in dynamic and creative ways. Benjamin Pearcy’s projection designs are striking, especially in the “Origin of Love” sequence, where a couple of scrims create an almost 3D effect.
In this time of extreme partisanship, this play about forgiveness and self-acceptance couldn’t be more necessary, and this outstanding production deserves to be seen.
Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., Sun. 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; through Nov. 27. www.HollywoodPantages.com. Running time: one hour and 40 minutes.