Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical about a band The Angry Inch, and the transgender front woman Hedwig, who assumes a female persona after a botched sex change operation leaves her with an angry inch. In the setting of one of their low key gigs, as they struggle to make it as a successful group, Hedwig recounts her life’s tragic events, punctuated with hard hitting songs illustrating her story.
This show is a popular pick at the fringe this year due to its current high profile Broadway production, staring the likes of Niel Patrick Harris, Taye Diggs and even John Cameron Mitchell himself. The show cleaned up at the Tony Awards, winning Best Revival of a Musical, Best Lead Actor, and Best Featured Actress, to name a few. As the only opportunity to see this show at the worlds largest arts festival, it’s no wonder why it’s on everyone’s to-see list.
Hedwig is a big undertaking, not to be taken lightly, and this production just doesn’t quite manage it. The key element of the whole show, the glue that holds the whole thing together is the music, that is played live by a five piece band, with Hedwig (played by Jake Benson) and Yitzhak (Hedwigs husband and back up singer, played by Nadia Dawber) on vocals. It was clear from the high energy rock number “Tear Me Down” that opens the show, and punctuates Hedwig’s entrance, that the band just weren’t tight enough. They were also hindered by the poor mixing of instruments, which understandably would be hard to master in this relatively small theatre at the fringe, but inevitably meant that the drums were far too loud, the keys could never be heard, and the most prominent voice we could hear was Yitzhak’s backing vocals, not Hedwig’s, who’s mic was very low in volume. On occasion we get just keys and Hedwig, in numbers such as “The Origin of Love” and this offers us a moment to appreciate the beauty of Stephen Trask’s music, and to hear Benson’s voice, which is good. The best moments of the show are the interactions between Hedwig and the audience, the near-the-mark comments and abuse he offers were done with incredible sass and conviction, with some very funny, quick witted comments. Unfortunately these were done to excess adding an extra 30 minutes on to an already 100 minute show. This whole show is a retelling for Hedwig, with great resentment of her lack of success, and the people in her life who have let her down and betrayed her. Hedwig is a tortured soul who has a huge lack of identity and purpose who just longs to be loved. There are moments in the show where Hedwig cannot hide and culminates in a catastrophic mental break down, that was simply not as strong as the rest of Bensons’s performance, and felt detached from the rest of the show. I just didn’t get the full impact that I know this show can offer, the crazy highs and lows, and the incredible songs that can fill us all with the emotion of Hedwig’s pain.
This being said, I sat for 2 hours and 10 minutes and was not once bored, and not once did I look at my watch to see when I might be let free, as I have with so many shows at the fringe. Benson had an energy and a draw that kept me watching and listening, waiting for the next retelling or audience interaction that would always have the crowd howling. This show does not live up to expectations, but it does entertain. If you have never seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch and aren’t a die hard fan, that has a standard set by Niel Patrick Harris and John Cameron Mitchell that you would hate to see anything less, then you will probably enjoy this show.
Reviewed by Bob Galereux
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is playing at Greenside at Royal Terrace from the 24th-29th at 22:10.