Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig and the Angry Inch? More like Hedwig and this show was so good it made me angry! Don’t miss C Magazine’s first theatre review with professional Broadway critique extraordinaire, Atusa Assadi.
December 5, 2016
Broadway’s touring production of “Hedwing and the Angry Inch” is a mesmerizing success that transcends gender lines and redefines the meaning of the term “musical.” Hedwig lights up San Francisco’s Golden Gate theatre with the innovative music and lyrics of Stephen Trask. Headliner and Glee favorite Darren Criss delivers a stellar performances alongside supporting actress Lena Hall, who is reprising her Tony award-winning performance for this national tour. Criss dazzled in the role of Hedwig, a struggling genderqueer rock performer from East Berlin who does not allow her many hardships to strip her of her captivating pizzaz.
Before you ask: No, this isn’t a show about Harry Potter’s owl and his critical 2.54 centimeter-long tumor (although incidentally Criss did star in the fan-made cult hit “A Very Potter Musical.”) The title of the show stems from Hansel (now Hedwig) Schmidt’s botched sex change operation, which left her with an undesirable “angry inch” of flesh and consequent lifetime of defying norms of traditional gender expression. The show is loosely based on the life and experiences of the script’s author, John Cameron Mitchell, the son of an American General based in West Berlin. The idea for Hedwig’s character was inspired by Mitchell’s German babysitter who moonlighted as a prostitute from her home in “wicked little town” Junction City, Kansas.
The setup of the show has viewers serve as the audience for Hedwig’s rock-meets-offbeat comedy show with improvised references to current events and localities to keep each show fresh and high-energy. The scene never changes from the venue of the rock show, meaning that the cast of characters remains constant the whole show. With the exception of the band they are backed by, the entire cast is made up of Hedwig and her husband, Croatian immigrant and former drag queen Yitzhak (Hall), who is played by a woman to push the show’s gender fluidity even further.
One of the best things about this explosive rock musical is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Although the topics addressed are real and delicate, the play invites you to laugh at the oddities, but also share in the sorrow of Hedwig’s lowest points. I was excited and engaged the entire time, marvelling at the show’s singularity and ability to entertain while addressing real issues in a palatable way. I’d strongly recommend this show to anyone with a “sweet tooth” for groundbreaking performances, or an affinity for edgy but moving rock ballads.
Hedwig is a special show because it asks nothing of you in terms of experience with sensitive issues of gender — only that you engage for the full 100 minutes and that you love and respect the electrifying heroine. The crowd doesn’t feel exclusive at all; there’s no unspoken rule that “only the hyper-consciously politically correct are welcome.” In fact, as I took my seat behind several rows of elderly patrons (as one must expect at any theatre performance, but especially a matinee) and snapped a photo for a friendly lesbian couple and their ten-year-old daughter, I decided that this show has something for almost any demographic to enjoy. Certainly, some of the older viewers were a little shaken up by the movement of Darren Criss’ meaty thighs, but overall I believe this show is for everyone (this point was carried home when almost the entire audience waited in the rare San Francisco sun for some two hours for Criss at the stagedoor.) It’s about when the important things in life get “botched” and how we cope and move on from those situations; it’s about anger, love, forgiveness, and most of all, our humanity.
As something of a globally acknowledged connoisseur of musicals, I’ve come to tire of the “classic” format. I resent shows from the mid 20th century full of cheesy dance breaks and cringeworthy jazz hands, delivering cliché messages with damsels in distress belting one last high C before their timely rescue by a dreamy but morally questionable knight in shining armor. The thought of shows like “Oklahoma” makes me roll my eyes. When I watch a musical, I crave something creative and original, something that delivers a crucial message, that revolutionizes the medium evoking the whole host of emotions from the audience and reminds everyone of their shared vulnerability. Hedwig delivers on all of these fronts.