Madison Gallup ‘18/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant TV Editor
When John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask created the show Hedwig and the Angry Inch, they likely never imagined that it would become such a successful and highly regarded Broadway musical. The very fact that a musical featuring a transsexual rocker could make it into mainstream Broadway restores a bit of hope for a society that has too often been shrouded in intolerance and hate. Clearly, America has made a great deal of progress in regards to gay and transgender rights if Hedwig has become one of the most sought after roles on the Broadway stage.
Darren Criss is currently inhabiting this incredibly demanding and iconic role, and he has witnessed first hand the evolution of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. As he has indicated in multiple interviews done before officially becoming the fifth actor to step into the role, Criss was a huge fan of the show long before he stepped into Hedwig’s heels. The passion that Criss has for Mitchell and Trask’s musical is extraordinarily evident in his performance. On all fronts, he drives himself to show off Hedwig to her fullest potential.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a show that sinks or swims according to how committed and talented the actor playing the lead role is. Fortunately for the show, there has yet to be an actor who has not inhabited the role beautifully. This likely keeps adding on pressure to the next man who commits to donning the wig because they have to deliver a performance that meets incredibly high expectations and bring their own personality and uniqueness to the table. Criss was certainly facing these concerns, but his enthusiasm and excitement to finally be in his dream role made him ready for anything. Criss is on full display in this show, and every inch of him is on fire. His sings every song beautifully, even the harder rock songs like the opening song “Tear Me Down.” He transforms into Hedwig up on that stage so completely that it is easy to forget he is acting at all. Many fans may enter the Belasco theatre knowing Criss as Blaine on Glee or as Harry Potter in ‘A Very Potter Musical’ from the theater group he founded in college “Team Starkid,” and it is interesting to see the way an audience might regard Hedwig differently based on the previous roles of the actor playing the part. Criss brought out the sassy and even sweeter sides of Hedwig just because fans have that kind of association with him. Criss recently commented on The Today Show that the audience is like a third character in the case of Hedwig, and it is something special to be able to introduce a whole different group of people to this musical each time an actor steps into the part.
Rebecca Naomi Jones took over the role of Yitzhak, Hedwig’s suppressed drag queen husband, from Lena Hall. She and Criss embarked on their Hedwig journey together, and they both shine in their roles. While Hedwig and the Angry Inch is very focused on its title character (and by design, as Hedwig herself is envious of her husband’s talent and constantly worries about being outshined by Yitzhak), Jones squeezes every ounce of emotion out of her character. She thrives in the subtleties of Yitzhak’s struggle to be himself while embracing his wife who is always thirsting for the spotlight and is willing to suppress the love of her life to stay there. Jones certainly knows how to handle a rock musical from her days as “Whatshername” in Broadway’s American Idiot, but Hedwig and the Angry Inch demands a full physical transformation from her that even her character is uncomfortable with. There is a great deal of nuance in Yitzhak’s character, and Jones handles all of it wonderfully. Her voice is also really gorgeous on her solo song “Long Grift,” which is such a goosebump-inducing and stirring number in the show.
In addition to having Criss and Jones on board as the newest members of the team, Hedwig has an extraordinarily talented band on stage at every performance. The band consists of Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Tim Mislock, and Peter Yanowitz. All four of these musicians are needed to set the mood of the show and keep the rhythm going strong. Hedwig exercises the power of sound and music to its fullest potential, and this is especially apparent in the moments of total silence toward the end of the musical where it seems as though every person in the theatre is holding his breath.
Lastly, the work put into costume, lighting, makeup, and projections must all be acknowledged when speaking about Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This whole musical is so intimate and stripped down that sometimes people may not fully understand how much work is done behind the scenes. Arianne Phillips designed costumes that help transform the two main actors into their characters. Kevin Adams’ lighting design immerses the whole theatre into the action happening on stage. Mike Potter is responsible for the amazing hair and makeup that has defined and created Hedwig, and again it is hugely important for helping Criss and the other actors before him embrace this wild, troubled woman they must play on stage. Benjamin Pearcy designed the projections that play on a scrim over the stage during the song “The Origin of Love.” They are so electric and beautiful, and they complement this standout number perfectly.
Criss will end his run as Hedwig on July 19th, and Taye Diggs will take over on the 22nd. Ideally this show will continue on Broadway for a very long time with many talented men taking their turn at becoming “the new Berlin Wall.” Nobody should be trying to tear Hedwig down from her rightful spot on the Broadway stage.