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Theater Review: "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

Euan Morton as Hedwig
Photo credit:
Joan Marcus

If you're not familiar with the musical exposé that is "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" now playing at San Diego's Civic Theatre, you may wonder what it is exactly you're about to settle into and watch for 90 minutes.

I'll try to explain, keeping in mind the show doesn't have an intermission. 

The musical tells the story of Hedwig née Hansel Schmidt an East German who in his youth pondered life's queries through soft rock radio hits of the 70's.

Further confusing his plight for answers as a gay youth, he questions the Bible's definitions of love and how those ideals about Almighty unions can transfer into mortal affections beyond limerence. 

He explains in the beginning, Eve loved Adam and therefore wanted to allocate her knowledge with him by sharing the forbidden fruit.

Just as the Trinity is a unified love, so too was Eve's for Adam even in mortality. But this moral is not so prevalent in the real-world Hedwig discovers.

These existential ponderings are set amid multiple rock numbers that progress his story along as Hedwig looks for answers in his own love life being a person whose gender was taken from him in a surgical mishap. He must somehow identify where there is no identity, therefore creating one even more alienating.

Strobe assaulting "The Origin of Love" further explores this musing with epileptic inducing lighting choreography. 

With its bombastic musical arrangements and minimal set dressing which hardly changes, some people will get stuck in wonder, while others will lean into the trippy production solving some, not all, of its riddles. 

But that is both a blessing and a curse. Confusion is perhaps what Hedwig is feeling most; his questions are asked in one musical number, challenged in another, and finally answered in the next.

Between all of that wig-banging is funny exposition, irreverent comedy and saucy audience interaction. 

The lead as Hedwig bears the weight of all of this and in 90 minutes’ time plays breathless to the judges in the audience who may or may not understand what's going on.

Couple that with Hedwig's obsession with the only man he ever truly loved Tommy Gnosis, and Hedwig's Jewish drag queen husband Yitzhak, played by the wonderfully voiced Hannah Corneau, and the narrative gets a bit muddled. 

However, Euan Morton who plays Hedwig serves as the emcee though it all and keeps things going at a steady pace with exhausting stamina. 

As a performer, 90 minutes of being on-stage, acting and singing seems inhumanly possible, but Morton is a marvel to watch. 

After all, he may be the perfect pick to play the faux-follicled alt-Demi-Goddess. 

He's no stranger to genre-bending musicians in wigs. The Scotland-born actor played Boy George in the Tony-winning "Taboo" to critical acclaim. 

His Hedwig is played with a confident countenance but pitted with emotional lethargy only reinvigorated by a heavy rock score until in the end he is literally stripped of his camouflage and exposed not only to himself but the dawn of a sagacious renaissance. 

Ian has told me that he wanted the audience to take from his performance their own questions about love and which laws both Biblical and worldly should define it, if any. 

Hedwig is not a musical plump with ensemble or elaborate set design. It's not filled with grandiose showstoppers or special effects. 

It's power lies within a human being stuck between worlds that when they collide produce eye-popping power ballads, comic repertoire and ultimately a sense that one can only disguise themselves for so long before the layers become too heavy to bear. 

Hedwig's journey in all of its mayhem is a love story at its core not only of others, but of oneself.

And sometimes, as in in life, there are no intermissions. 

Hedwig is a cut above the rest with a girth both loud and proud. 

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" plays through December 4, at the Civic Theatre in San Diego.