She may be strutting across the Broadway stage with a leg brace and some of her keys have been lowered, but Hedwig–the down-on-her-luck trailer-park rock queen desperate for a comeback–is nothing if not a survivor. Just try and tear her down. Superfans of Hedwig and the Angry Inch have speculated for years as to whether creator/performer John Cameron Mitchell would ever step into those heels again. (The multi-hyphenate has often stated he gave up acting due to the rigorous demands of the production.) So, at age 51, is it possible that Mitchell can navigate (to quote a famous show lyric) the dark turns and noise of this wicked little town in 2015?
And how. After varied, impressive turns by Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells and Michael C. Hall in the title role, the most notable feat Mitchell accomplishes in his return is scaling the tale of the disgraced chanteuse’s claw back to mid-level obscurity with an intimacy that immediately recalls his performance at downtown’s looser, now-defunct Jane Street Theatre some 17 years ago. Unlike his predecessors, who all branded the show with their own unique gifts (truthfully, if you have a sturdy singing voice and any charisma to speak of, this is a hard character to mess up), Mitchell transports Hedwig back to its bluesy, confessional mode. Which is not to say that this marvelous score doesn’t still rattle your seat (that new arrangement of the country-pop ditty “Sugar Daddy” is still utterly thrilling), but somehow through the quiet, innate intuition Mitchell still possesses, he verbally reforms the 1,000 seat-plus Belasco Theatre into a venue that feels smaller and more enveloping.
And there’s just no getting around the improvisational prowess that Mitchell still wields, even nearly two decades later. The aforementioned leg brace (after an injury Mitchell suffered early in his run) has been deliciously interwoven into the proceedings (you’re seeing the show with the “original cast”, Hedwig informs us), and the visual reminder of a hobbled Hedwig makes her journey that much more poignant; her scars are now apparent on the outside and inside. Mitchell even seems to have raised the game of costar Lena Hall, who won a Tony for playing Yitzhak, the 50s-greaser attired lover of our heroine; her performance has never seemed more impactful. Also on the docket are new razor-sharp barbs leveled at the likes of Brian Williams and James Franco–“all of the privileges of homosexuality and none of the responsibility”, Hedwig purrs about the ubiquitous attention hog.
There’s a distinct reason that Hedwig and the Angry Inch topped EW’s Best of Stage for 2014; what seemed at first like a star vehicle for the considerable talents for eventual Tony winner Neil Patrick Harris developed into a true audience love affair with the conflicted soul nested in those sausage-curl blonde wigs. (This reviewer knows a bevy of people who have opted to see whoever is the new Hedwig versus whatever new Broadway musical has recently opened, which might bode well for the cherub-faced Glee star Darren Criss when he takes over on April 29.) But if you’ve been holding out on returning, now’s the time. Mitchell proves that sometimes you can go home again. A