Monday, December 12, 2016

Angry Thoughts

Two years ago, the Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch made a big splash. The glam rock show about a genderqueer singer starred a procession of great performers including Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall, Taye Diggs, and more. For those of us who couldn't get to Broadway for it, a touring production has been making the rounds, and this past week stopped here in Denver.

It feels like large theaters really aren't the ideal place for Hedwig. I'm glad that creators John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask have been able to enjoy the success of a Broadway hit and its subsequent tour, but this show feels like it was meant to be a smaller, more intimate experience. It's essentially a one-man show (despite the on-stage four-piece band and the secondary character of Yitzhak), and unspools one character's entire life story. Because it's not so stuffed with music that it plays like a concert, it really relies on a raw and touching performance by its lead. And there simply aren't that many actors one could imagine reaching a Broadway-sized audience in that personal way.

This touring production stars Euan Morton, and while his singing skills are top notch, I just don't think he had the acting chops to reach all the way to the way to the back of the ridiculously oversized-for-this-show theater. Or perhaps it's that he never found (or was specifically directed not to look for) his own take on Hedwig, and thus didn't fully internalize the story he was telling. Even people who never saw Neil Patrick Harris perform the role can pick up the original Broadway cast recording or watch video of his Tony performances (including one as Hedwig). Morton seems to be playing the part in the same way, giving us something of an NPH impersonation more than a Hedwig unto herself.

Still, the production did deliver some good moments. It's full of great music, from the loud and brazen "Tear Me Down" and "Sugar Daddy" to the thoughtful and emotional "The Origin of Love" and "Wicked Little Town." And Hannah Corneau really shines in the role of Yitzhak. As I noted, this is mostly a one-man show, and poor, put-upon Yitzhak only gets a couple of moments in the spotlight. But in those moments, Corneau did make the sympathetic connection with the audience that reminded you that yes, there are some performers who can make you feel like you're the only spectator who matters in an audience pushing a thousand.

If the alternative is not to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at all (and, other than the 2001 film version, it is), then -- for a musical theater fan -- this is likely better than nothing. But at the ticket price that touring Broadway productions command, many people probably ought to think twice about seeing this when it comes to their wicked little town. I'd grade it a B-.

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