Olney’s production of John Cameron Mitchell’s (book) and Stephen Trask’s (music and lyrics) “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a high-octane, raucous, roller-coaster of a journey. From the first sashaying entrance down the middle aisle in the old theatre at Olney to the final note, this is a gloriously glam/punk/heavy metal/and-a-touch-of-emo wild ride. It’s loud, exhausting, and totally uplifting. I would recommend it for a holiday show, actually.
‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ is a fabulous show with enough heart and energy for a dozen shows.
The musical is centered on Hedwig Robinson (a glorious Mason Alexander Park [they/them] who was also in the first National Broadway tour of “Hedwig” and can currently be seen in Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop”) who becomes a genderqueer singer of a rock-and-roll band called The Angry Inch (this is in reference to Hedwig’s botched gender-affirming surgery). The story is inspired by Mitchell’s own life when he was a child. His father was a decorated major general in the U.S. Army and the US Commander of West Berlin from 1984-1988. He brought the family to Kansas where Mitchell’s babysitter was a divorced Army wife who moonlighted as a prostitute. Mitchell and Trask also spent several years refining the material with input from the LGBTQ community.
The story’s trajectory is through the songs. We feel Hedwig’s grey upbringing with a single mother in East Germany—a world that was untrusting and where privacy was non-existent. The musical moves to Hedwig’s marriage to an American officer who moves them to Kansas and then deserts her. From this unpromising beginning, Hedwig then takes charge—sometimes lost, sometimes broken, but every day, a survivor.
The constant in Hedwig’s life is her husband—Yitzhak (a quietly hysterical Chani Wereley), the Jewish drag queen from Zagreb. They have been together for 17 years. Yitzhak endures a lot of abuse from Hedwig, but their roles are fluid enough that the interdependence is evident. There is love even if sometimes it needs to be reset a bit. Yitzhak has an incredible voice which makes Hedwig nervous.
As with every Hedwig, it is updated to include references to current political and cultural events. Sadly, in the last five years, there was plenty to draw from in the political arena when it comes to homophobia, racism, sexism, and intolerance. Maybe that’s one point. Ever since this show was first produced in 1998 off-Broadway, there is no shortage of intolerance, lack of acceptance, and violence toward the LGBTQ and gender-fluid communities. We still need to hear this message.
The Angry Inch band members are played by Manny Arciniega (Schlatko), Jaime Ibacache (Krzyzhtoff), Jason Wilson (Jacek), and Christopher Youstra (Skszp). All are musicians as well as actors and are perfect as the band backing Hedwig.
Johanna McKean directed with all the non-stop energy this show deserves, and which Park delivers to such an extent I was surprised he could walk off stage afterwards. Jacob A. Climer handled scenic and costume design, and Hedwig’s outfits, wigs and makeup (both by Mike Potter) are simply fabulous. The rest of the band and Yitzhak are the epitome of punk rock. At the end, Yitzhak blossoms with a gorgeous drag queen outfit of her own and is given the opportunity to shine.
The sound design by Matthew Rowe is phenomenal. For purposes of the storyline, Hedwig is playing at a second-rate venue very close to an arena where a former lover—who owes his success to Hedwig’s song-writing talents, uncredited, of course—is playing. When either Hedwig or Yitzhak (one to curse and one to annoy) rush over and open the door, it is exactly like hearing the sound of a rock concert from a half mile or so away. Lighting designer Max Doolittle bathes the stage in either seductively moody lighting or amps up the lighting to match the howls of rage.
‘”Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a fabulous show with enough heart and energy for a dozen shows. Don’t miss this production. Do not think this is not an appropriate show for the holiday season. Yes, it’s avant garde, but it espouses openness, compassion, acceptance, and ultimately, love. What else is really needed?
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
Show Advisory: For mature audiences.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” runs through January 2, 2022 at 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd, Olney, MD 20832. For more information, please click here.