Transgendered individuals deserve extra attention during these dark days, so Chicago’s remount of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a balm, a glorious, rock-star, kick-ass celebration of the ultimate joy of finding and becoming your true self.
Tony and Olivier Award-nominated Euan Morton stars as Hedwig Robinson, the child of an East German woman and an American solder, raised by his mother alone, behind the Berlin Wall. A cabaret star as an adult, Hedwig now owns an array of “morally ambiguous” blonde wigs, starting with super sausage-rolls (designed by Mike Potter), and fearlessly jumps in gold platform boots (costumes by Arianne Phillips), up and down a car carcass (set design by Julian Crouch) while belting her bifurcated life in song.
Through her escape narrative, by John Cameron Mitchell, and choreographed numbers by Stephen Trask, Hedwig and her band The Angry Inch (also the result of botched gender reassignment surgery) explore all edges of the rock oeuvre, from lightshow rock-outs to tender ballads with sweet, syncopated accompanying animation (designed by Phosphene/John Bair).
Morton punctuates a lifetime of “appointments and disappointments” with spot-on local references (including Wicker Park and Wrigleyville mentions), faux product placements (Atrocity perfume), interactive audience riffs and jokes – “what was Christian Mingle called back in the day? Oh, right, church … where Jesus loved me, but wasn’t IN love with me.”
Off-Broadway, the musical won Obie and Outer Critics Circle awards, was remounted in other U.S. cities, and then London in 2000. It finally hit Broadway in 2014, garnering a Best Musical Revival Tony. This current national tour began in San Francisco in October 2016. David Bowie co-produced the LA production, and his musical and androgyny influences percolates throughout, as well as those of Iggy Pop and other trailblazers.
Hannah Corneau is equally adept as Hedwig’s husband Yitzhak, in her supporting harmonies and her eventual leading numbers (her hirsute frame and leather jacket are reminiscent of Carrie Brownstein’s Lance character from “Portlandia”). She inaugurates the production by asking that the audience “curate the present and don’t fetishize the past.”
The four-piece band originated their roles on Broadway, including the music director with the skinniest, Joey Ramone legs around, Justin Craig (guitar and keys) as the unpronounceable Skszp (“sounds like a door closing on ‘Star Trek’”), along with Matt Duncan as Jacek on bass, Tim Mislock as Krzyzhtoff on guitar, and Peter Yanowitz as Schlatko on drums (which say “Hedwig” instead of “Ludwig”).
There is a meta frame to the show that is so brilliant I cannot spoil, except to ask that you peruse the Playbills at your feet.
Hedwig notes that after the Berlin Wall fell, she didn’t know whom she was, and the story is set at that time and place precisely because it’s about division of self, and finding your better half, whether internally or externally. The opening song is “Tear Me Down,” but see this show to feel reborn.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is here for a short run through March 19 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets and info at 312-977-1710.