The stage story of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has been teasing and entertaining audiences since it first opened as an Off-Broadway hit in 1998. By 2000, the rock musical was enjoying a West End run in London and then served up to new audiences as a feature film release in 2001, with the latter treatment deemed a box office failure with only $3 million in earnings compared to the project’s $6 million price tag.
It wasn’t until 2014 that “Hedwig” once again found staggering acclaim when it finally returned to New York to officially open as a Broadway run and won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival after playing to record-breaking sell-out crowds.
Now that “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is enjoying a U.S. tour, it has made it to Chicago for its Windy City premiere hosted by Broadway in Chicago for a two-week run through Sunday, March 19 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph in Chicago.
Clocking in at just under two hours, without an intermission (Hedwig is a character who runs on pure adrenaline and never needs a break), “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has been described as many things, ranging from “brilliantly innovative” and “heartbreaking” to “wickedly funny,” “groundbreaking” and “the story of the origin of love.”
It’s rather difficult to define and describe this musical with just a string a few words or adjectives. The old saying “you have to see it to believe it” is what applies best here.
Having earned its tag as “a landmark musical,” it is the make-up heavy, in-your-face tale dreamed-up by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. This tour is directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer, the man who led “Spring Awakening” and “American Idiot.” It stars Tony and Olivier Award-nominated Euan Morton playing the title role of Hedwig, and Hannah Corneau making her Broadway National Tour debut as Yitzhak, the devoted companion and sometimes, agitator of Hedwig. 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.
When creating this musical, Mitchell (who starred as title character Hedwig for the film version), based the basic foundation for the story’s thread from his youth spent while his family lived in Kansas, since he was raised as the son of a U.S. Army General who had once been in charge of the U.S. sector of occupied West Berlin. Mitchell designed Hedwig from his recollections of a German divorced U.S. Army wife who served as the family’s babysitter, but also had a mysterious and more unsavory sideline occupation as Kansas trailer park prostitute.
Using their imaginations and a selection of songs to tell the fictional story of Hedwig’s roller coaster personal and professional life, Mitchell and Trask anchor the musical’s setting as the backlot alley of a large theater, with the backstage door as a spotlight focal point. There is a car parked in the alley which becomes a favorite place for Hedwig to perch, while telling the story of a transgender existence of highs and lows for a range of life moments spanning everything from romance to performance career highlights and lowlights. Towering in heels, feather boas, sequin garb and various stacked wigs Hedwig’s life journey includes a “botched sex change operation.” Just beyond, on the other side of the stage door is Tommy Gnosis, performing to a large audience of adoring fans as outcast Hedwig recounts, from the back alley landscape, the now unacknowledged assistance and support from others (especially Hedwig) which gained Tommy his success.
Joining Hedwig in the alley are the members of Hedwig’s band “The Angry Inch” aka “Tits of Clay,” including music director Justin Craig (guitar and keyboards), Matt Duncan (bass), Tim Mislock (guitar), and Peter Yanowitz (drums), all of whom originated their roles on Broadway. And at Hedwig’s side is the loyal Yitzhak, affectionately dubbed “husband” by Hegwig, and always mute except when singing and longing for the opportunity to once again don a wig and gown to feel “beautiful.”
While this is not a musical for the faint of heart or easily offended since there is sexual references and adult language, the music is a favorite draw for many, but especially for this show’s clear cult following of adoring fans. The song “Wig in a Box” remains a special favorite for myself and audiences, and starring lead Morton is in fine form every minute from the curtain’s raise to the final bow. Corneau’s perfect voice also never disappoints.
The creative team for Hedwig and the Angry Inch features Emmy Award nominee Spencer Liff (musical staging), Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Julian Crouch (scenic design), Tony Award and two-time Oscar nominee Arianne Phillips (costume design), four-time Tony Award winner Kevin Adams (lighting design), Mike Potter (hair and makeup design), Tony Award nominee and platinum-selling record producer Tim O’Heir (sound design), Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions (projection design), John Bair/Phosphene (animation), James Calleri (casting), Tony and Grammy Award nominee Ethan Popp (music supervisor & music coordinator), Justin Craig (music director), Stephen Gabis (dialect coach) and Johanna McKeon (associate director).
Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached email@example.com.