Within the last few years, the term “gender” has taken the reins in politics in terms of the LGBTQ community. The social construct of gender gained another spotlight in the world of theatre when a woman by the name of Hedwig was revived onto Broadway in 2014. Hedwig’s life originally began in 2001 when John Cameron Mitchell wrote the American musical-comedy-drama movie, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. After gaining a cult following, despite earning a little over half of its overall budget, the Hedwig was adapted for the stage. After an Off-Broadway runway, the Broadway run began in 2014 and was led by Neil Patrick Harris. Now Hedwig is telling her story in Minneapolis.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch tells the story of Hedwig, a transgender punk-rock girl from East Berlin. After falling in love with an American G.I., she undergoes a Gender Confirmation Surgery so that she can sneak out of the country with him to the United States. However, the surgery didn’t go as planned and she was left with an “angry inch.” Now – years later – Hedwig is traveling the U.S. with her band and telling stories of her life with her stage hand assistant Yitzhak. Her tour is conveniently running the same tour dates as her former lover turned rock star, Tommy Gnosis, who stole all her songs before leaving her.
Tyler Michaels King leads this show as the title role and does so brilliantly and respectfully. The role is complex and difficult both from a character standpoint as well as vocally. King gives an electrifying performance as Hedwig and his is a true testament to the talent that he has. He perfectly captures who she is, what she wants and where she came from. His infectious energy and demanding stage presence only lifts this already fantastic character to new heights.
Jay Owen Eisenberg plays Yitzhak and brings vulnerability to him through a large amount of body language. Yitzhak doesn’t have that many lines but is central to the show as he tries to keep Hedwig grounded. Eisenberg is able to convey such a wide range of emotions through his performance, hardly saying a word. Oh, and did I mention that he is literally the main stage hand and actually sets the scene while still never dropping character?
One must note that while the overall company is sublime, the show is visually spectacular. The set, designed by Michael Hoover, includes a small trailer that Yitzhak and Hedwig often use for quick changes as well as grudge and rusted household items scattered across the stage. These include a refrigerator, an old stereo as well as multiple pink flamingos.
The band performs under a giant billboard that features a “got milk?” ad as well as a phone number to rent the billboard. My favorite detail of the set is the cleverly placed phone number leads to the Theater Latté Da box office line. Lighting designer Mary Shabatura also finds that perfect line of rock concert lighting that still feels theatrical.
The hair and costumes serve a very important purpose in this show, quite possibly more than most. Wigs and makeup truly are some of the defining parts of Hedwig as a character and human. They are not just props but serve as their own characters with personality within each costume change. In the moments of the song “Wig in a Box,” she laments about when she’s having a bad day, she turns to her wigs to forget about the world for a bit. Both Hair and Wig designer Paul Bigot and Costume Designer Alice Fredrickson have created a wardrobe that dazzles audience members while elevating the story Hedwig tells.
I had the pleasure of seeing the national tour at the Ordway a few years ago. I instantly fell in love with the show, the intricate themes and how relatable it was to me on so many levels in being a member of the queer community – however that was in such a large space. Due to the Ritz’s intimate space and the non-traditional structure of the show, King can connect with audience members more. Hedwig speaks to us as the fourth wall is never constructed that normally separates the audience from the performance. This is vitally important with the shows messaging of both self-love and societal tolerance.
On the surface, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a blunt and showy musical about one woman’s journey learning self-love. However underneath the glitz and glamour is an unflinching, unapologetic and unbothered show that challenges the traditional musical theatre norm. The show is not often produced and it’s one of the best I’ve seen this year.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs at the Ritz theater through Theater Latté Da now through May 5.