A funny thing happened in the two decades since John Cameron Mitchell began developing the character of Hedwig, the ”internationally ignored” East German transgender punk rocker. Trans went mainstream, and so did Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The surest sign: Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s downtown-and-dirty musical is now squatting at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre, with America’s favorite gay next door Neil Patrick Harris donning a Farrah Fawcett wig, a denim miniskirt, fishnets, and five-inch heels seven shows a week.
Just how edgy can Hedwig remain on the Great White Way? There is, after all, a bit of cognitive dissonance in a supposed outcast selling out a giant theater filled with fans screaming, ”I love you, Neil!” While director Michael Mayer’s tricked-out production abandons the show’s seedy origins, there’s still a satirical edge that reflects the more upscale venue. In an elaborate running joke, Hedwig performs on the leftover set of a six-hour musical version of The Hurt Locker that closed after a single preview. (Audiences are even handed Playbills for the faux show, which boasts a score by Metallica, a book by Tony Kushner, and Adele Dazeem’s sister in the female lead.)
Purists may balk at Harris’ punk-lite vocals on Trask’s infectiously rockin’ score — he’s less Iggy, more pop — and his threats to ”cut you, bitch” come off with more of a wink than actual menace. But in a bravura performance, the actor proves the perfect instrument for Hedwig’s transition into world-class superstardom. He’s honed his showmanship on four Tony Awards gigs, of course. But he’s looser here, and lewder, more spontaneous and quick on his pumps. A-