Thursday, April 24, 2014

Broadway Review: Hedwig & the Angry Inch with Neil Patrick Harris




Performances, Music and Production Excel, but Message Falls Short
By Lauren Yarger
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a cult film by John Cameron Mitchell rocks 'em out at the Belasco Theatre with Neil Patrick Harris in the starring role. His performance, and that of co-star Lena Hall are really good, the music by Stephen Trask is really good and the special-effect projections (designed by Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions) are really, really good. The story, however, not so much.

Hedwig tells us his sad tale. As a boy named Hansel, living in pre-wall Berlin,he is with his really cruel mother by his sexually abusive father, and attracts the attention of a guy named Luther who appreciates Hansel's more feminine side. He likes it so much that he insists the boy have surgery to make him a woman before accompanying his love to the United States. His mother thinks that's a splendid idea. The surgery leaves Hansel with an inch of his manhood and a scar that makes it look very angry and a new name: Hedwig.

Later, Luther abandons him and a devastated Hedwig forms a rock band called The Angry Inch (Music Director Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Tim Mislock and Peter Yanowitz).They play Trask's really wonderful '80s rock tunes and it's a wonder the stained glass in the beautiful Belasco doesn't shake loose, though there are a couple of ballads as well. For one number the audience is invited to sing along with the bouncing balls. No, that is not a typo. It's a plural noun and yes, we see a part of the male anatomy bouncing along to lyrics projected on stage..

Meanwhile, Hedwig falls in love with a young musician named Tommy Speck (not played by an actor), whom he believes is the other half of himself, for whom he has been searching. This search began when his "not-going-to-win-mom-of-the-year" mother sang him a bedtime story based on Aristophanes' speech in Plato's "Symposium." It's all about the origin of love and how people started out as three types of fused couples whom angry gods separated. Now they must search for each other.... The staging of this song is amazing (Michael Mayer directs and musical staging is by Spencer Liff).

Tommy is angry to discover Hedwig's inch, however, and they split with Tommy stealing Hedwig's songs and going off to his own fame and fortune. Hedwig eventually ends up with husband Yitzhak (Hall). And in an ending that is supposed to be about finding your true self, I think, male and female genders are blurred even more.

This musical reminded me of the Broadway revival of Hair and Duncan Sheik's Spring Awakening (which also was directed by Mayer). My thoughts: "Great music, great performances, great staging, but I just wasted two-plus hours of my life watching a story that I can't get behind."

I get Hair and Spring Awakening -- just don't like the messages. Hedwig was plain confusing to me a number of times. I gather, after talking with some fans of the film, that changes have been made to the stage version and this led to more confusion as they tried to answer my questions.

Even if I'd followed the plot perfectly, I probably still wouldn't be a fan. Watching Neil Patrick Harris wear fishnet stockings and heels (and at one point only black leatherish briefs) and a ridiculous blonde wig (Arianne Phillips; Mike Potter design) while licking a guitar, licking Lena Hall, licking the stage floor -- well, using that tongue a lot including posing for the Playbill cover that features it -- just isn't my cup of tea. Give me American Idiot (also directed by Mayer) instead. Great rock music, great performances, great staging -- and a poignant story with a great message.

Hedwig plays at the Belasco, 111 West 44th St., NYC. http://www.hedwigbroadway.com/

Christians might also like to know:
-- Show posts a MATURE advisory
-- Language
-- Sexually suggestive dialogue
-- Mythology
-- Sexually suggestive activity

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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