By Daniel Skora
From the Hip side: It’s exciting, enormously entertaining, and what Rolling Stone calls “The Best Rock Musical Ever”. It’s funny and heartbreaking, relevant and inclusive, provocative and ahead of its time. It won 4 Tony Awards in 2014, including Best Musical Revival. It’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and it’s playing now at the Fisher Theatre.
The story concerns Hedwig (Euan Morton, who’s absolutely electrifying as he pours his heart and soul into the part), a transgender German performer who fronts a rock band played by a group called Tits of Clay. Hedwig tells her life story directly to the audience (at least as much of it that’s happened so far). Born Hansel Schmidt to a German women and an American soldier who abandons them, Hansel favors his feminine side as he matures. He takes the name Hedwig and because he loves rock music, he/she wants to go to America to experience it to its fullest. Like his mother, she finds an American soldier, but they cannot marry because the soldier’s a he and physically, so is Hedwig. So it’s off to Sweden for a sex change. Afterwards, she finds her way to America, where she forms her band and is assisted on stage by a backup singer named Yitzhak (Hannah Corneau). Yitzhak is a former drag queen who has a sort of love/hate relationship with Hedwig.
There’s much, much more to Hedwig’s story, but quite frankly, her story is just window dressing for the music and comedy that’s the crux of the show. The comedy is bawdy and the music is a kick-ass soundtrack with rockers done with an eye to the greats, like David Bowie and Lou Reed, and ballads reflecting the emotional turmoil in Hedwig’s life. Production values are high. The set includes some creative animation, with strobe lighting used frequently. The costumes (Arianne Phillips designer) are fabulous and feature more blonde wigs than you’ll ever find in Dolly Parton’s wardrobe.
From the Hip replacement side (and that’s not meant disparagingly, because time has a way of changing everyone, mentally and physically, and those that were Hip at 25 may find themselves looking at life from the other side of the aisle at 65): Though all the above may be true, the show is also vulgar, profane, rude and obnoxious. And it’s angry, which in a way is understandable if you’re expecting your reconstructed privates to function like a woman’s but discover that the botched surgery has left them congealed into a single pathetic inch of useless flesh. If the Legion of Decency were still around, “Hedwig” would surely be designated as morally offensive
Some in the opening night audience decided to leave even before the 95 minute show had ended, their silhouettes blocking the glow from the exit signs as they shuffled out through the side doors. Perhaps they were wondering what had become of the Fisher Theatre of “Oklahoma”, of “The Music Man”, and of “Showboat”. Maybe they were in attendance because it was part of their Broadway in Detroit season subscription and just took it for granted that the Fisher was always considered to be a bastion of good taste. Perhaps, because the title has a similar rhythm to “Harold and the Purple Crayon” or “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, they thought it might have something to do with a children’s book. They undoubtedly didn’t expect jokes about blowjobs.
Not prudes, they certainly knew how babies are made and have made millions of them without instruction or encouragement from outside sources. To them, the intimacy of sex is a private matter, and, no matter what your sexual proclivities may be, is best engaged in the privacy of your own home. And as for the comedy, laughter should never take its motivation from cruelty. Regurgitating a mouthful of water onto a member of the audience isn’t really funny.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” runs through March 5th. Book is by James Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. The show is directed by Michael Mayer. Tickets are on sale at the Fisher Theatre box office in the Fisher Building, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, and online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or www.TicketMaster.com. The Fisher Theatre is located at 3011 West Grand Blvd. in Detroit.