HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, TAKES OVER THE GOLDEN GATE STAGE AND IT IS WAY MORE THAN WIG AND HEELS, THIS WICKED LITTLE TOWN IS NOT JUST A 'GIRLY BOY'
THE HURT LOCKER The musical, fails, but to our remarkable luck Darren Criss and the amazing Lena Hall have arrived to clean up the mess. HEDWIG has returned to the Bay Area, this time with an erotic kick ass production. HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH is now on stage at the Golden Gate Stage only through Oct 30th. With a terrific book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. Directed by Michael Mayer (American Idiot, Spring Awakening), has launched its first national tour on Wednesday, October 5, in San Francisco not far from the Victoria theatre where I first saw the Off Broadway version. This rock power production features San Francisco natives Darren Criss and Tony Award winning Lena Hall and a keen cast of musicians/actors including music director, Justin Craig.
Michael Mayer’s spellbinding Broadway production of John Cameron Mitchell’s ’90s cult classic keeps all its glam, hairspray and its raunchy one liners “When it comes to huge openings, a lot of people think of me”. Darren Criss steps into the heels previously worn by Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall and Taye Diggs and an authentic Yitzhak performed by Lena Hall. Mitchell and Trask’s superb rock musical won four Tony Awards its first season on Broadway. Best Actor in a Musical for Neil Patrick Harris, Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Lena Hall, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, and Best Revival of a Musical. HEDWIG had never been on Broadway until Director Mayer and Harris teamed to produce the much hyped and praised drag icon on Broadway, and it was a sold out hit.
Criss’s pitch perfect performance is a revelation and the opening night the sold out audience was jumping and whooping, shouting out the lyrics to the songs. Most fans picked up the catchy songs from 2001 film that was a huge underground hit and John Cameron Mitchell’s first directed film, that he stars in. “Tear Me Down” opens the 100 minute rock show designed as if we are seeing one of his many dive bar concerts. Criss and company take over the HURT LOCKER THE MUSICAL set that includes a full size car that Hedwig uses as his stage. Structured as a one-night concert by the fledgling bar star and her glam rock backing band, the setting allows Hedwig, born Hansel Schmidt, to recount her life story: abuse at the hands of a GI father and neglect by an East German mother; a quickie marriage to an American soldier and a bungled sex-change operation; a songwriting and romantic partnership with a teenage Christian Twink named Tommy Gnosis who is yet another betrayal, another abandonment, but our Heroine is a survivor.
Criss gets strong support from a twistedly, charismatic Lena Hall as Yitzhak, and four onstage rock musicians, bang-up glam costumes by Arianne Phillips, and those winning wigs by Mike Potter called out in the song “Wig in a Box.” The local audience fell right into the chorus of this tune. Kevin Adams’ lighting is rock concert perfect and the artful animations add detail and spectacle. “The Origin of Love” is moving with the projected animation that captures the power of the song. The intensely charismatic Hedwig, and Criss fits the bill and more as the self-obsessed, spiteful, and gleefully punning anti- hero who proves herself heroic after all soldiering on through disappointment after disappointment. Criss’ story telling of Hedwig’s life is sincere and he captures that moment of childhood dreams as he shoves his head into his mother's oven. “Sugar Daddy” written by Justin Craig, brings the rocker into the audience to meet some of the older men in the front rows and perform that classic “Look it's a car wash” as she humps a darling silver haired man.
Director Mayer highlights this script for each city Hedwig will visit on this first national tour. Hedwig jabs at local Bay Area landmarks and indiosyncrasies including Google buses, the Mission hipsters, uber drivers, Christian Mingle and James Franco. The mention of other Broadway bound failures that started on SF stages including “Lestat” and “Mambo Kings” and, of course, now add “Hurt Locker The Musical” - as you enter the Golden Gate and walk to your seat - you see all the left behind Hurt Locker playbills, be sure to snag one they are a perfect collector's item from this event. “How did some slip of a girlyboy from communist East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you?” says the emotional Hedwig as he blasts into “Tear Me Down” one of the more powerful songs that open the show.
Unlike the movie version, the live version succeeds as a very loud rock concert cabaret act, performed by a single character whose songs tell the story of his life. It’s a show containing a narrative, and personality, angst and passion that Criss is excellent at creating. As Hedwig plays to his adoring fans, Tommy is down the street at AT&T Park concert, Mitchell’s script is easily adapted to Bay Area references. Yitzhak to annoy his boss runs upstage to open the stage door, the lights and sound from Tommy’s much bigger show rush in to overwhelm Hedwig. It is a great touch to the underlying subtext to Hedwig's constant heart breaks. “Angry Inch” rips open the Golden Gate house, as the rocking number explains the twisted operation our hero goes through to become our heroine “Six inches forward and five inches back, I got an angry inch” The lights and overpowering, punk rock vibe is sharp. Criss and Hall also bring a certain elegance to the infectious “Wing in a Box” that opens Hedwig’s dive bar career. Musical Director, keyboardist, and guitarist Justin Craig is Skszp; bass and guitarist Matt Duncan, Jacek; guitarist Tim Mislock, Krzyzhtoff; and drummer Peter Yanowitz, Schlatko, all move this show and move from their background roles to riff with Hedwig and Yitzhak.
“Wicked Little Town” shows off Criss’ tenor voice and his passion for this role of the lost hurt and bitchy Hedwig. At the end of the rocker, a rising column lifts Hedwig high above the stage for a reprise of “Wicked” in a strip down version as he transforms to the boy Tommy Gnosis, he is naked of any false values, costumes and wigs are gone, her “Origin” is complete as she unmasks her image. Given a younger energy by a performer who has the voice, the talent, the glamor, and the dazzle the role demands. Her tragedy and triumph is iconic and this adds up to a brilliant treat for Hedwig fans.
Yet a highlight of this performance may not all lean on Criss, Lena Hall, who won the Tony for her role as Yitzhak, the former drag queen steals this show. Hall’s passionate powerhouse performance of “The Long Grift” brought the sold out opening crowd to tears and cheers. Hall also does a perfect rendition of Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” you want her to finish the song, it is awesome. This national tour will be one of the first that one actor will perform the two parts — Hall will perform as Hedwig Wednesday evenings, October 12, 19 and 26 at 8pm, and Shannon Conley will take over as Yitzhak. In the final song, when Hedwig crowns a wig on Yitzhak is moving and brought me close to tears, Hall is a superstar.
One of the themes of Hedwig is the limitations of the body. “Midnight Radio” closes the show and by this time the crowd is on their feet waving their hands in the air and bonding with Criss is this classic cross of gender bending. Lena runs up from the cheering crowd dressed in a full gown and sparkling with charm and is mesmerizing. The anthem that will bring you to tears is one of the reasons you can't miss Miss Hedwig. Yet this time Yitzhak is just as much a star as her boss, both Lena Hall and Darren Criss will inspire you to wear a wig for the upcoming Oct 31, holiday. Book your seats now, and remember SHN is offering 40.00 Rush seats two hours before each show.
‘HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH’
By John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask,
Directed by Michael Mayer, Staged by Spencer Liff
Featuring Darren Criss, and Lena Hall
Through: Oct. 30
Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco
1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $45-$212; 888-746-1799 www.shnsf.com
Photo Credits: MATTHEW MURPHY, JOAN MARCUS, RUDY ARCHULETA
and STEVEN UNDERHILL