Neil Patrick Harris charismatically plays this flamboyant character. From his entrance on a wire coming from the ceiling, clad in a 70’s style Bowiesque outfit and over-the-top large blond wig to the finale wearing only black leather short shorts, he is vocally, emotionally and visually stunning. Well-known for his television situation comedy career, stage appearances and hosting The Tony Awards, here he reaches surprising new heights of virtuosity. With his arresting physicality, dramatic and comedic range he brings tremendous pathos to this role and is beyond category.
This boldly original material was created by John Cameron Mitchell who wrote the book and Stephen Trask who wrote the score, which ran Off-Broadway for over two years beginning in 1998. Under Mr. Mitchell’s direction, it became an award-winning independent film in 2001 preserving his landmark stage performance as Hedwig. The ingenuity of the book and the accomplished pastiche rock score made it into one of the best and most successful Off Broadway musicals and its achviements are now vibrantly displayed on Broadway.
Cleverly updated with topical references, most comically the conceit that the audience really is at the Belasco Theatre where the concert takes place due to the premature closing during intermission of its previous tenant, the fictional musical version of the Iraqi war film, The Hurt Locker. Distributing a hilarious satirical Playbill for the flop show further reinforces the gag. The curtain is up when the audience enters the theater and the stage is strewn and hanging with rubble, debris and a smashed-up car reminiscent of the film. There’s also shtick about the history of this theater and its reputation for being haunted.
The event is an autobiographical evening of songs and stories chronicling Hedwig’s life beginning in East Germany shortly before the destruction of the Berlin Wall and then onto his time in The United States where he becomes the muse and Svengali to a emerging teenage rock star. We also learn of his botched sex change operation done for love, which then defines his existence.
Directed with the frenetic rock and roll sensibility he brought to American Idiot and Spring Awakening, Michael Mayer is assisted by the musical staging of Spencer Liff in realizing this concert structure device into a full-fledged happening. There’s audience participation with Harris leaving the stage to provocatively dance in the aisles and seats, heckling people, and even a sing-a-long.
Tim O’Heir’s sound design is heavy on the decibels for the necessary effects but doesn’t overwhelm. The unison of the scenic design by Julian Crouch and Kevin Adams’ lighting design realistically simulate the reality of a rock concert. There are colorful projections during the songs, strobe lights, the band aggressively playing, and front man Harris. He commandingly evokes the imagery of a gallery of icons including David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Tina Turner, and Mick Jagger, all while rendering a unique character.
Complementing the stagecraft and performances is the actual dynamic band. Consisting of music director Justin Craig on guitar and keyboards, Matt Duncan on bass, Tim Mislock on guitar, and Peter Yanowitz on drums, they sound and look like the real thing. Adding another layer of authentic imagery are Arianne Phillips’ witty costumes and Mike Potter’s detailed wigs and make-up design. They have outfitted each of the musicians separately to resemble the specific styles of Punk, New Wave and Glam. In addition, they’re responsible for Hedwig’s numerous outrageous looks.
As Yitzhak, Hedwig’s Croatian anchor, band mate and husband, the vastly talented Lena Hall is beguiling as this gender bending character. She’s a woman playing a gay man and costumed in leather she provides even more comic relief as well as being a dramatic foil. She makes the heavily accented preshow announcements including the very accurate, “This is a loud show with some quiet bits.”
This edgy subject matter, bombastic presentation and Neil Patrick Harris’ star quality make this production of Hedwig and The Angry Inch a thrilling and exhilarating event.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (playing through September 13, 2015)
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission