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REVIEW: "HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH"—Chance Theater

Updated: Feb 6

A Landmark, Gender-Bending Musical Sensation!


FEBRUARY 4TH, 2024—ANAHEIM


“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” is a musical about a fictional rock-punk band of the same name, fronted by an East German gay man living as a woman, with a book by Obie/Drama Desk award-winning John Cameron Mitchell (who, incidentally, played the title role in the original production), and music and lyrics by Grammy-nominated Stephen Trask. Over the past two decades, the musical has gathered a devoted cult following, and in 2001, had even been adapted into an American musical film of the same name, also by Mitchell.


Tom Avery in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Chance Theater. Playing January 26 – February 25, 2024 at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center on the Cripe Stage. The musical has text by John Cameron Mitchell, music & lyrics by Stephen Trask, directed by Matthew McCray, and music direction by Lex Leigh. Photo by Casey Long.

The story draws on Mitchell's life as the child of a U.S. Army major general, who once commanded the U.S. sector of occupied West Berlin. The character of Hedwig was the brainstorm of Mitchell's family babysitter who moonlighted as a prostitute at her trailer park home in Junction City, Kansas. The music is steeped in the androgynous 1970s glam-rock style of David Bowie (who co-produced the Los Angeles production of the show in 2016, the same year of his death), as well as the work of Nirvana, John Lennon and early punk performers Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.


Originally directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer ("Spring Awakening") Off Broadway in 1998 and starring Tony Award-nominee Euan Morton, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" played to record-breaking sell-out crowds, then was reincarnated on Broadway in 2014, winning four Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival. In the stage original, as is now, the entire show is performed as a rock concert in a single act, with Hedwig, backed by his band, "The Angry Inch," telling his story along with clever stage banter (“I tried singing once back in Berlin. They threw tomatoes. After the show, I had a nice salad.”)


Chance Theater’s current run of the witty, glitter-rock musical, featuring the transgender headbanger as she follows rock-star Tommy Gnosis’ tour around the country, plays to excited audiences through February 25th. The raw-energy show is directed by Matthew McCray and stars Tom Avery (“Miss Step,” “Newsies”) as the formidable vanguard, Hedwig.

Also in the spotlight is Music Director Lex Leigh as Skszp, and bandmembers Mazie Voss as Krzyzhtof, James Michael McHale as Jacek and Julia Smushkova as Schlatko. Hedwig’s back-up singer—her ambiguously gendered Slavik lover, Yitzhak—winningly performed by Laura Herskov, also has vocal power that is truly amazing.


Tom Avery, Mazie Voss, and James Michael McHale in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Chance Theater. Playing January 26 – February 25, 2024 at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center on the Cripe Stage. The musical has text by John Cameron Mitchell, music & lyrics by Stephen Trask, directed by Matthew McCray, and music direction by Lex Leigh. Photo by Casey Long.

I doubt you’d know anyone quite like Hedwig personally. She is, after all, an East German “slip of a girly boy” who was wooed and wounded by an American G.I. (viciously mocked and excoriated in the musical rant “Sugar Daddy”) who was responsible for her botched, back-alley vaginoplasty (hence the angry inch) and miserable life as a war bride. She then went on to endure an even more painful life of loneliness in America, performing with her band at any dive with a salad bar, attempting to kindle a singing career of her own, while chasing her one-time lover, Tommy—another musician that Hedwig had transformed into a stadium-filling mega rock star.


By now it was getting difficult to watch this show without finding moments of her journey resonating on some emotional avenue of life. Hedwig, who becomes the self-professed “internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you,” is an underdog if there ever was one.


The musical starts out seeming like stand-up comedy, filled with eye-rolling raunchy cheap jokes that deserve, and often receive, rim shots. A metaphorical character in many ways—her opening line is, “I’m the new Berlin Wall. Try to tear me down!”


Laura Herskov and Julia Smushkova in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Chance Theater. Playing January 26 – February 25, 2024 at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center on the Cripe Stage. The musical has text by John Cameron Mitchell, music & lyrics by Stephen Trask, directed by Matthew McCray, and music direction by Lex Leigh. Photo by Casey Long.

Eventually, however, everything becomes more real. It becomes an unexpected love story with the pounding sounds of rock slowly giving voice to a painful past. Given her background, it should come as no surprise that Hedwig’s off-color humor is her go-to defense mechanism, a way of coping and surviving the ordeal of failure, heartbreaks, and alienation.


Tom Avery keeps us engaged throughout the one hour, forty-minute show (no intermission) with the perfect amount of androgyny, vocal chops and emotional clarity to pull off gut-wrenching songs like “Wicked Little Town” and the eerily beautiful poetry of “The Origin of Love.” That song, like the entire show, is inspired by Plato’s Symposium, which posits that humans were originally created as two people fused together, and then split in half by the gods, and therefore we have to search for our other half until we find that person.


Toward the latter part of the show, Hedwig grows a bit weary, physically and emotionally, after a slapdown of romantic heartbreak when Yitzhak adds a jealous edge to the plot. Hedwig counters with “Hedwig’s Lament,” and sheds her skin finally in a gloriously angsty “Exquisite Corpse,” putting it all out there in a pensive exposé.


Tom Avery and Julia Smushkova in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Chance Theater. Playing January 26 – February 25, 2024 at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center on the Cripe Stage. The musical has text by John Cameron Mitchell, music & lyrics by Stephen Trask, directed by Matthew McCray, and music direction by Lex Leigh. Photo by Casey Long.

The songs fuse native American pop, folk, and country with European glam rock, which was a very interesting mix. None quite matches the addictive appeal of the wistfully empowering "Wig in a Box," however, or the hardcore "Angry Inch.” Although the songs are probably not on your daily playlist, Trask's score is mind-bending all the way through and often searing in the delivery.


Decked out in a wig that seemed to be a combination of Farrah Fawcett morphed with Tina Turner, Tom Avery expertly wields the character's latent vulnerability with aching sweetness and deft ad-libbing, unveiling the frightened girl beneath the getup. But despite the layers of makeup and wigs she wears, Hedwig still comes across broken, beaten and bitter. Her outer layers a façade, a mask to hide the pain. The overarching message is that to find love, you must first accept every part of yourself. Thus, Hedwig’s journey is essentially a quest for individuality.


The comedy and candid confessionals create a bond between plucky heroine Hedwig and the audience, leading to a fascinating phenomenon late in the show. The audience seems spellbound. You can literally hear a pin drop as they practically hold their collective breath listening to Hedwig’s woes.


Tom Avery in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Chance Theater. Playing January 26 – February 25, 2024 at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center on the Cripe Stage. The musical has text by John Cameron Mitchell, music & lyrics by Stephen Trask, directed by Matthew McCray, and music direction by Lex Leigh. Photo by Casey Long.

But it is simultaneously a thrilling rock concert—exciting enough on its sequined surface to satisfy glam-rock fans of all generations. Looking beyond the raw fury and rebellious defiance that fuels Hedwig’s blistering stage persona, you can now see, as well as sense, the vulnerable core of her tough punk character. Musically, the vulnerability that comes through in “Wicked Little Town," however, is a direct antithesis of her fierce defiance in “Tear Me Down.”


Confirmation of that impression comes in the grand finale, when Avery steps out of Hedwig’s camouflaging finery and stands near naked, looking then more like a feral and dangerous version of “the slip of a girly-boy from East Berlin.” Not that Hedwig would ever admit to any character frailty or weskness. Should any sign of weakness surface, I'm sure she would strangle it, most probably by tormenting her Croatian husband even more so. A former drag queen, simmering with resentment and jealousy, Laura Herskov’s Yitzhak belts out a song called “The Long Grift” which, not so subtly, shows how Hedwig has been keeping her in her place.


Brilliantly innovative, heartbreaking, and wickedly funny, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is shamelessly enjoyable. Integrated with a pulsing score and an electrifying performance, it unravels the story of one of the most unique characters to ever hit the stage. As Mitchell and Trask’s spellbinding rock musical memoir, there is no other show quite like it, and I doubt there ever will be, given that it came about in the late 90's and retained that twisted grunge-style indicative of the decade. So, for one of the hottest tickets in Orange County, contact Chance Theater while you can at: www.chancetheater.com/


"Hedwig's" creative team includes scenic designer Bradley Kaye (“Ride the Cyclone”), costume designer Bradley Allen Lock (“Ride the Cyclone”), lighting designer Zach Moore (“Rent”), sound designer James Markoski (Chance Debut), projection designer Nick Santiago (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”), stage manager Nicole Schlitt (“Edges”), dialect coach Glenda Morgan Brown (“The Secret Garden, The Musical”), and dramaturg Bruce Goodrich (“Rent”).


The cast of “Hedwig and The Angry Inch” features Tom Avery (Chance Debut) as Hedwig, Laura Herskov (Chance Debut) as Yitzhak, Lex Leigh (“Striking 12”) as Skszp, James Michael McHale (“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” Chance Resident Artist) as Jacek, Mazie Voss (Chance Debut) as Krzyzhtof, and Julia Smushkova (Chance Debut) as Schlatko.


Susan Bowman & Freddie Greenfield are Executive Producers, and Bette & Wylie Aitken are producers for the entire 2024 Season. Rachelle Menaker & Eddie Schuller are associate producers and The Family of Mary Kay Fyda-Mar are this season’s associate producers.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report








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