By: JK Clarke
Let’s just get this out of the way: Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) is amazing. Saying as much feels like a naive display of the obvious. But, it must be said. In theater a multi-talented performer is a triple threat: singer, dancer, actor. But NPH is more than that. In baseball, an all-around great is called a “five-tool player,” and somehow that’s a more apt description. He’s got it all. In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, playing at the Belasco Theatre, he’s the master of ceremonies, borscht-belt comic, storyteller, the core of the entertainment . . . in addition to singer, dancer and actor.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the story, narrated by Hedwig, of a boy raised in misery in 1970s and 80s East Berlin who falls for an American G.I. Wanting to marry him and escape the Iron Curtain, his only choice is to undergo a sex change and take his mother’s identity (and passport). The specious surgery is botched, of course, and Hedwig is left with a horrible scar and not the female parts he was promised. Life in America is far from rosy, and soon after arriving, Hedwig’s husband leaves her for a man, miring her in the midwestern trailer park they call home. To cope, she forms a rock band, The Angry Inch (who are backing her on stage). One of her fans is a young Christian boy named Tommy, for whom she writes music and falls desperately in love. But he becomes internationally famous and abandons her. When we join Hedwig, she’s telling her story and expressing her pain and isolation with heartfelt songs.
With numbers ranging from glam rock to punk, The Angry Inch (Justin Craig, Matt Duncan,Tim Mislock and Peter Yanowitz) is a worthy, well-credentialed band (some of whom have performed with big name rock bands and musicians), and it shows. Loud and intense songs like “Exquisite Corpse” are filled with great hooks, strong guitar parts and a hard-driving rhythm section. Stephan Trask’s music and lyrics are the core of this production, and the numbers are more than done justice.
Lena Hall, as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s glum (until his chrysalid transformation) husband, is delightful. Looking like a young, mustachioed Corey Feldman in a Perfecto jacket, she plays the resentful backup singer/musician admirably, emerging and demonstrating her chops (and beautiful voice) at just the right moments.
Special note must also be made of the costume department (Arianne Phillips) that can do more things with denim then you would ever care to know about.
But despite all the formidable components, the real story is Neil Patrick Harris. He takes a book that is somewhat flat (John Cameron Mitchell’s lifeless writing was even able to make his 2006 film about orgies—Short Bus—sadly tedious), and breathes life into the script, updated with jokes and contemporary references about the venue, Broadway itself and news of the moment. He is one with the audience: teasing, interacting and occasionally dousing or straddling them—to their absolute delight. This is an opportunity to see a world class performer in his element, showing off all of his talents and many of his tricks.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Through August 17 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street (between Broadway and Sixth Avenue). www.hedwigbroadway.com
Photos: Joan Marcus