Hedwig and the Angry Inch

 

Text by John Cameron Mitchellhedwiglogo

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Trask

Directed by Kyle Trent

Starring Ryan Lanning & Lauren Paris

Presented by Haven Theatre

Playing at Theater Wit

Hedwig has some solid performances, but it’s in need of a stronger directorial vision.

Hed-Heads, rear your engines! The “internationally ignored song stylist” Hedwig Schmidt is back, headlining in Haven Theatre’s inaugural production at Theater Wit.

Hedwig_1It’s been a full fifteen years since Hedwig and the Angry Inch—book by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask—first debuted at the Off-Broadway Jane Street Theatre to breathless excitement and rapid word of mouth. Since then this musical about a “a girlyboy from communist East Berlin” turned transexual punk rocker has gone on to worldwide acclaim with productions erected in near every corner of the globe, including a highly successful 2001 film.

Part stand-up comedy routine, part rock ‘n’ roll concert, part drag show, and part Broadway musical, Hedwig—much like its title character herself—is a mash-up of influences. Tracing hir inglorious rise to notoriety through a kind of boozy tongue-in-cheek confessional, Hedwig is a figure perpetually misunderstood. Born ‘Hansel’ to an austere mother in communist East Germany, Hedwig underwent a botched sex change operation (hence the ‘angry inch’) in order to marry an American GI. Taken to the states, divorced, and left alone in a Kansas trailer park, Hedwig’s now recovering from a recent affair with a certain pop rock icon, Tommy Gnosis, accused of making it big it into the Big Time with Hedwig’s songs.

Now it’s true: Haven Theatre’s current production—which features Kyle Trent directing the very talented Ryan Lanning—is more than slightly derivative. Hedwig’s iconic popularity over the years (at least among Gen Xers and Millennials) means the burden to do something new with it is pretty big—new emotional inflections, new looks, new twists on old jokes—and Haven’s take on this contemporary cult classic just doesn’t push the material far enough to warrant yet another production. Sadly, the result is a Hedwig which fails to either provoke or shock, settling into an all-too-familiar familiarity.

That said, there’s still plenty here to entertain, including a charismatic performance from its lead (wo)man Lanning. Funny, committed and likable, even if Lanning doesn’t set about to reinvent the wheel, he at the very least shows himself a master craftsman. There’s still some work needed (from director and talent alike) in cleaning up Hedwig’s emotional transitions. But Lauren Paris as Hedwig’s “Man Friday through Thursday” Yitzhak comes equipped with some powerful singing chops, helping give Haven’s production a much-needed rock edge. And the four-piece rock band, led by musical director Kory Danielson, sounds electric (even as they occasionally drown out the voices).

 

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Reviewed by Anthony J. Mangini

Reviewed Monday, July 8th, 2013.

Running time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs until August 11th, 2013. Theater Wit is located at 1229 W. Belmont Ave. For tickets call (773) 975-8150 or visit www.TheaterWit.org. Check out their Theater in Chicago listing at http://www.theatreinchicago.com/hedwig-and-the-angry-inch/6423/.