The crowd on opening night of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Winspear Opera House enthusiastically welcomed the show to Dallas. This story of finding love, finding acceptance and non-conformity seemed to resonate with the audience. From the beginning, one is aware this will be a different kind of show; there is never a definitive moment of curtain up but rather the band casually enters the stage and starts tuning up. Then Hedwig bursts onto the scene with a raucous rock number that assaults the senses and revs up the audience. It is apparent this will be no ordinary Broadway musical.
The 90 minute show alternates between monologue and musical numbers – part rock and roll, part punk, part metal, part hair-band – as we slowly get to know Hedwig and how she got to be who we see on the stage. Euan Morton (Hedwig) makes great use of the obvious latitude in the script for ad libs, tossing out bits of Dallas allusions and commenting on today’s political climate. On script, the f-bombs fly and sexual references abound. Though this is not a show for those averse to vulgar humor, it suits the character of Hedwig and helps paint the picture of a sad and lonely person ravenous for attention and craving love. Her every movement and utterance demand “See me, Love me” as she relates her story of looking for her other half.
A victim of a botched gender reassignment surgery, Hedwig finds pain and rejection on her search for love. Her husband Yitzhak, played by Hannah Corneau, is a former drag queen whom Hedwig has forbidden to don a wig again lest he outshine her. We see the inhumanity with which she has been treated reflected in her treatment of the ever-present, ever-helpful, long-suffering Yitzhak. She belittles him and taunts him and forces him into her shadow. I found I had sort of a love/hate relationship through much of the show with the Hedwig; I felt for her trials, I loved her flamboyance and her embracing of her otherness, but I was repulsed by her cruelty and dismissal of the quiet support offered by Yitzhak.
I wish I had known the songs before I went to the show. As it was, whether it was the acoustics or the sound engineer, they seemed to be riotous musical onslaught. They sounded like they were very good songs with lyrics to further illuminate the story, but I had to strain (often unsuccessfully) to understand the words except in the softest of songs where the accompaniment faded a bit behind the vocals.
The set changes subtly over time as Hedwig strips away parts of it, and she also strips away parts of her plumage as her story becomes more intimate and begins to lay bare her inner wounded soul. Her bravado slowly slips away with her camouflage, leaving her standing before us unprotected and exposed and finally able to share the spotlight.
I understand why the show has been such a smash hit. The music is engaging, the story is moving and it is an exciting show. It is not for everyone, but if it’s your cup of tea, it is an exceptional production.