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Reviewing Hedwig and the Angry Inch

So I thought I would like to write a review of the rock-musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

I am new to writing full-blown reviews so I guess by default this will be the worst one ever… but also the best? I am by no means an expert on anything, nor should you hold my opinion to more or less value than you would hold to someone you just met on the street. My opinion is my own, but I would like to share it.

Held at the Underground, the venue suits the show as about as well as you could hope for any production. Small, dimly lit, loungy chairs up front, and a corrugated steel wall of old concert posters. A reasonable location for a has-been that never quite really been to tell their story.

Hedwig enters, and the first thought (I haven’t seen it before, nor the movie) is ‘What have I gotten myself into.’ Hard drinks are available throughout the show for the un-brave like me.

What follows is the forlorn tale of how Hedwig came to be, in her own words, storyteller style, with all the mommy issues and tragedy you would expect for someone to end up with such a beglitterd voracious maw as hers. Like a frowny-clown, even she admits that it is not always easy to discern her laughing from her crying.

Though the tone is heavily weighted toward anger and pain (justifiably), there’s a good peppering of humor (some ad-libbed or customized for this run), and to me that makes for a good time. It’s good to have a joke when you just watched the poor thing claw her own heart out for you to see.

So we follow the tale, and hear some songs, and we reach an ending where I guess I’m not sure what happened. I guess that’s my only real problem with the show itself if I’m not sure how it ended. I mean I watched it end, and it felt like a great ending, and I liked the tale that brought us there, but I’m not really sure what happened. I wonder if I missed something in the lyrics, so I’ll go look those up and see.

Any musical has an up-hill battle as far as making me give a shit about the songs. I’ve seen too many shows where the songs are unnecessary, long, redundant, and way too numerous. For me, songs should be short-cuts to tell us things that would sound too expository in dialog. To enjoy the feelings and emotions of the characters is great, but often it seems like they are slathered on to make up for poor writing and thin acting. (“Remember how I told that character I was angry? Now I will sing a song about being angry for all the reasons we’ve already discussed.”)

Hedwig is called a rock-musical (though the songs are played as a band would, not as moments where nobody seems to notice that everyone is singing dancing like jagoffs), so twice as much convincing is needed for me. Musicals generally play songs I wouldn’t listen to on purpose, and don’t tend to work outside of the context of the show. However, the songs in Hedwig are truly rock (or pop-rock?), catchy, and totally listenable. I may have been tapping my foot from time to time and I’ll never forgive them. They tricked me.

Cast

Headlining the show is Alec Schroeder as Hedwig. Let me spoil the summary of this review and tell you now that you should see this show, and Alec is the reason why. Not to discredit everyone else who make the show possible, from musicians to make-up, but this show, which is truly a musical monologue, could not be great without a great frontwoman.

What more could you ask an actor than to give themselves completely into a role? To become something else so convincingly that you forget that they are not that person in real life. Alec’s performance is nothing less than Shakespearean. I hope to see him out front again.

Secondly is Tonya Porter as Hedwig’s grumpy-as-fuck boyfriend. A small role that she plays with totally convincing machismo. He probably deserves to be grumpy, as she endlessly endures Hedwig’s flippant abuse, and doing so reminds us that it’s really not okay. We laugh anyway though.

As both actors and music performers the pair were fantastic. Tonya’s high harmonies over Alec’s belts and brays were a great mix. They were well practiced and pitch perfect. Again, it helps that the songs were actually good songs, but nevertheless, they rocked it.

My only complaint, really, would be their accents were not terribly convincing, but maybe that’s not even possible? Would I even know a good fake German accent if I heard it? I’m not sure. Like usual I wonder if not even trying would have been better. In the context of the story, I think it was unavoidable in this case.

The band should be mentioned as they are on-set and did a great job. I guess a mention is all they get. No really, they were splendid.

Production

Production-wise, the show was pretty solid. Lights, costumes, and set were totally fine. There were no set changes so they get a pass on that.

Sound, as usual, was not the best. I have yet to see a musical at the Underground or Playhouse main stage that didn’t suffer from poor mix and/or volume. The distractions have outright ruined shows before. Hedwig has her hand-held mic the whole time, and the band was up close, so there was no trouble hearing everything, however, when it got loud and emotional, the vocals were often drowned out, and I wonder if I missed some important lyrics in there.

Conclusion

You should see this show.

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