HEDWIG Review: Inching Towards Greatness

Photo: Joan Marcus

Hedwig – Give Her An Inch, She’ll Give You A Mile
Hedwig and The Angry Inch is bringing an oft-forgotten four-letter-word back to the Great White Way;
l-o-v-e. Love for yourself, love for your fellow man, and love for that which you don’t understand are the resounding messages in the rock musical. Dancing, singing and jumping around in sky-high heels, Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother and four-time Tony Awards host) magically brings the title character Hedwig Schmidt to life and unapologetically brings her story front and center. Mr Harris leads the audience on her roller coaster journey of transformation from a confused “slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin” who experiences a botched sex operation (hence, her “angry inch”), to a rough-around-the-edges song stylist. She and the band, “The Angry Inch” are shadowing Hedwig’s former lover Tommy Gnosis performance in New York City, who has stolen her lyrics and spotlight, along with her heart. The story ultimately culminates in a powerful and chaotic conclusion where the characters shed the skins of their facade discovering love and acceptance of their true selves.

Neil Patrick Harris plays the title role with reckless abandon throwing all his power into each dance step and wailing out each note leaving the audience to wonder how on earth he can pull this off show after show. He’s fantastic, enthralling, and exhausting to watch, but most importantly it’s impossible not to fall in love with the wayward rockstar known as Hedwig. Mr. Harris has a way of effortlessly knocking down the fourth wall; from balcony to the front row, you feel as though this show is as intimate in its current home, the Belasco Theatre, as it was when it first went up Off-Broadway at the Jane Street Theatre in 1998.

Photo: Joan Marcus

Lena “Rocker” Hall (formerly “Nicola” of Kinky Boots and lead singer of the rock band, The Deafening) plays Hedwig’s gender-bending husband, “Yitzhak.” Her “Rocker” nickname is aptly warranted as her voice soars over the theater and into the streets outside. She nails every note and by the emotional finale you are as in love with her as you are with Hedwig. The duo has complete control over the audience as evidenced in the closing song “Midnight Radio,” which pulled each member of the audience out of their seats and lifting their hands to the sky.

Photo: Joan Marcus

With book by John Cameron Mitchell (the original “Hedwig” both onstage and the cult film of the same title) and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, this 95 minute production gives you everything you want in a show – rock, emotion, innovative animation, and even a brief audience sing-a-long. Tony-Award winning Director Michael Mayer is no stranger to rock (Spring Awakening, American Idiot), his expert direction leads you to feel you are at a rock concert rather than a Broadway musical.

This critic’s only complaint would be the superfluous jokes, added for those unfamiliar with the original material but more to showcase Mr. Harrris’ previous work on television and film credits. The contemporary material draws away from the pain and reality of Hedwig’s plight, some jokes are unnecessary and daresay, distracting.

All in all, the show is unabashedly fantastic- sending you back into the world with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and truly in love with the lost-yet-found Hedwig and her Angry Inch.
For tickets: www.hedwigbroadway.com

HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME Review: Stop, Look, and LISTEN!

HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME, the new musical based upon the lyrics of the late Tupac Shakur, is an exciting, innovative addition to the Great White Way. Under the direction of Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon (Raisin in the The Sun), the plot follows the release of John (Saul Williams) from prison as he returns to the aftermath of the block he left behind. Vertus (Christopher Jackson), his neighbor and good friend, is now dating his love Corine (Saycon Sengbloh) and his block turns to a cry for vengeance after the death of Vertus’ brother, Benny (Donald Webber Jr).

The show transfuses the lyrics of Tupac to create compelling dialogue and electrifying songs. One example, the popular “Dear Mama,” starts with Jackson quietly speaking to his mother through the vivid, heartwrenching lyrics. As he talks, the cast-members sing the ode to his mother underneath his speech, leading Jackson’s spoken word into the chorus.

Photo: Joan Marcus
Holler If You Hear Me uses brilliant lighting design to help set both mood and illustrate what’s inside the mind of the lead character John. The lighting designer, Mike Baldassari and projections director, Zachary G. Borovay, intelligently makes use of projected images through out the show, seemingly taken from John’s notebook. This reviewer wishes there were more use made of the projections; perhaps key lyrics and inclusion of the symbolic rose grown from concrete, but otherwise they are compelling.

At times it’s difficult to understand the actors, and if you’re not extremely familiar with Tupac’s work, you may want a quick crash course or you will find yourself with a cocked head and alert ear. The plot is loose, but Saul Williams, Christopher Jackson, and Ben Thompson, who plays Griffy the owner of the garage and the representative of John’s clean slate, make a formidable team of talent. Thompson brings both humor and charm to an otherwise grim tale and this reviewer dares you to try and not sing along to his rich voice in “Thugz Mansion.”

In contrast, Williams brings a passion and undeniable intensity, capturing the fire, heartache, and pain of Tupac’s words, his whole body charged with each word. Jackson is the perfect combination of innocence and street justice. Topped with Sengbloh playing the love interest with talent and grace, and the Tony Award winning Tonya Pinkins tugs at your heartstrings as Mrs. Weston, and you have a quite accomplished cast. With such talent, one wishes they took more time and a few extra steps in developing the characters.

Photo: Joan Marcus
A piece of advice, this is one show in which it pays to sit as close to the stage as possible- you can feel the beat of the music. The newly renovated stadium seating of the Palace Theater makes you feel like you’re sitting on the stoop “on the block” watching this story unfold, and the choreography by Wayne Cilento in the top of the second act is more impressive from close seats.

Photo: Joan Marcus
Final word, if you are on the fence of attending this show, this reviewer’s advice is to jump off the fence and head to Palace Theater with an open mind. Attend not only for the incredible talent onstage, but for the message, the passion, and the experience. This show is an EXPERIENCE, and one you won’t soon regret.

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Review, “All The Way” Broadway

Run, don’t walk, to the Neil Simon Theater! As stated in Act 1, “the ugliest sound in the world is the tick…tick…ticking of the clock” and every minute that goes in which you don’t grab a ticket to Bryan Cranston’s flawless Broadway debut, is a minute wasted!