Daily Bruin Online
November 10, 1999
By Jessica Holt
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" it most definitely is not. In fact, "Hedwig and The Angry Inch" makes any other production claiming to be a rock musical seem like a poppy Debbie Gibson revival in comparison. Giving true, long-awaited definition to the rock musical genre, "Hedwig" really rocks.
Hot off the heels of its phenomenal 20-month off-Broadway run, the Los Angeles production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," playing at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, delivers a powerful, hilarious and poignant evening that lives up to the hype.The show is a mesmerizing hybrid of a rock concert, revelational monologue and drag cabaret that tells the story of Hedwig Schmidt, a transsexual born "Hansel" and raised as a "slip of a girly-boy" in Communist-era East Berlin.
The provocative show, written by John Cameron Mitchell, manages to find depth and meaning in the character of Hedwig, whose personal struggles with identity and her quest for love resonate universally.
Played with outstanding vibrant energy, satiric wit and vulnerability by Michael Cerveris (who originated the role of Tommy in the Broadway production of "The Who's Tommy"), Hedwig relates the sad storied events of her life in the intervals between the innovative 10-song rock score by Stephen Trask. Her journey to becoming the "internationally ignored song-stylist" headlining with her band, The Angry Inch, is profoundly disturbing and desperately funny.
Molested by her father and neglected by her mother, Hedwig listened to rock 'n' roll music as solace. Desperate to get out of East Berlin, Hedwig agreed to a sex change operation in order to marry Luther, a U.S. corporal, and move to the United States. In the riotously titillating "Sugar Daddy," Hedwig confesses that she had a sweet tooth but Luther satisfied her craving.
Unfortunately, the sex-change operation didn't quite remove everything it should have, and left Hedwig with a one-inch mound
of flesh, the eponymous angry inch. The heavy metal ode "Angry Inch" gives Cerveris and the band a chance to thrash about the stage in authentic metalhead style. Cerveris really has great versatility as a rock vocalist, easily commanding the different
rock styles the score embraces.
Within a year of coming to America, an abandoned Hedwig finds herself alone in her mobile home in Junction City, Kans., watching the television in horror as the Berlin Wall is dismantled. With characteristic and impeccably ironic timing, Cerveris's Hedwig says, "I cry, because I will laugh if I don't." It's hard not to laugh while sympathizing.
Hedwig then met the love of her life, Tommy Gnosis, the teenage pimply-faced "Jesus freak" who collaborated with her musically and personally before ditching her for widespread rock solo fame. The loss was devastating but Hedwig's enduring struggle for love, acceptance and recognition propel her to keep making music.
Hedwig's band, appropriately named The Angry Inch, adds fantastically to the show's ambience. Dressed to the nines in
their glam-rock attire (just like the audience), they are sport for anything Hedwig throws their way. Also notable is Miriam Shor, the only woman on stage, who plays a man, Yitzak. A former drag queen, Yitzak has become Hedwig's stool
pigeon of a manager. Essentially a groupie with a title, Shor plays the part with a menacing, yet unaffected, manly demeanor.
The show, however, belongs to Cerveris. He owns the stage and switches from jaded jibes and acidic remarks to heart-rending
confessions without ever sacrificing the reality of Hedwig's world. Hedwig is a flawed and damaged diva with a tabloid-worthy
tale but Cerveris manages to convince the audience that underneath all the glitter there is a relatable, vulnerable soul.Cerveris depends on the audience for much of his work, teasing, taunting and flirting with them. Much of Hedwig's dialogue has
been altered to fit an L.A. audience and it is in some of these jokes that Cerveris really packs a penetrating punch. Referring to
Disney executives as "fascists" and reprimanding the audience for being "so L.A. in all your black" and not knowing what a Sizzler is, Cerveris lets it all hang loose (which actually isn't much).
Directed by Peter Askin, who also helmed the show in New York, "Hedwig" flows easily and effortlessly through its 105 minute running time. The set and lighting design, by James Youmans and Kevin Adams respectively, also adds layers by rendering the Henry Fonda Theater a seedier, more intimate rock concert venue. The lighting effects at the end of the show also powerfully corroborate with the cathartic finale."Hedwig and The Angry Inch" is a much needed addition to the musical genre inventory. Innovative and provocative, this production will challenge and entertain everyone from theater buffs to the uninitiated.