Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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NY1 Theater Review: 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'

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Celebrated film and stage star Neil Patrick Harris returns to Broadway in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," a show that received a total of eight Tony nominations, including one for Harris and a nod for best revival. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

Ever since "Hedwig" premiered at the Jane Street Theatre off-Broadway 16 years ago, it's had a cult following, much the same way "Rocky Horror" has maintained its legion of fans. Both shows are raw and rambunctious, and they clearly appeal to a youthful crowd eager to push the music and theatre envelope. That's a downtown audience, and I'm not sure if Broadway's the right venue, but if anyone's going to bridge the two cultures, Neil Patrick Harris certainly fits the bill.

Staged as a concert, Hedwig, a transgender German punk rocker, makes quite an entrance in full regalia. The Angry Inch band is excellent and there's just one other credited performer, Yitzhak. But the design team deserves equal billing for their outrageous creations.

Harris, as the defiant survivor, Hedwig, essentially delivers a harrowing monologue, spoken and sung, about life as an unhappy child in East Berlin, a failed marriage, abandonment, and a botched sex change operation. The title comes from what's left of Hedwig's butchered genitalia.

Original star and book writer John Cameron Mitchell added wonderfully funny new material. Together with Stephen Trask, who composed the electric score, the collaboration is unapologetically crude and rude. It's also quite brilliant. And while the material is likely to turn off more cultivated tastes, it perfectly captures the viscerally subversive energy of its caustic protagonist.

Harris more than owns the stage. He takes it hostage, holding the house captive for the entire 95 minutes. His voice is strong, and he can ad lib with the best of them. But after seeing Mitchell in the film version, I sensed that Michael Mayer's Broadway production pulled its punches somewhat, perhaps catering to a mainstream crowd. Nonetheless, the talent is there, and with her incredible voice, Lena Hall as Yitzhak manages an impressive sleight of hand.

Between the blinding lights and the cranked-up decibel levels, "Hedwig" is appropriately assaulting, but strangely, uptown, it didn't feel angry enough.

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