Hedwig Robinson looks a little lost in the Eisenhower Theater. You’re likely to feel a little lost, too, especially if the national tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (★★½) is your first encounter with the self-described “slip of a girly boy who became the internationally ignored song stylist.”
Euan Morton puts his all into the meaty role of this transgender force of nature, oft-victimized but irrepressible and indefatigable. The actor is as sharp, quick-witted and charismatic as any who has come before him in the part — from John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the wildly imaginative script 20 years ago, to the man who brought it into the Tony-winning mainstream three years ago, Neil Patrick Harris.
A Tony-nominated actor for his portrayal as Boy George in Taboo, Morton has punk-rock star pipes and presence, making him a natural fit to lead a five-piece band in the concert-style musical. It’s too bad, then, that director Michael Mayer decided to drown out the story by pumping up the lighting and sound to almost distracting extremes. It’s blustery to the point of confusing almost the moment Hedwig struts out on stage, following her band as it leads into “Tear Me Down,” the song that sets the stage for the evening. You can’t miss the particulars of her situation, yet a fair portion of Mitchell’s clever lyrical wordplay and nuance gets lost in the excessively loud hubbub. The same goes for much of the melodic and harmonic subtleties found in Stephen Trask’s rich, infectious glam-rock score.
The amped-up camp adds energy and enthusiasm, but the show still drags as it soldiers toward “Hedwig’s Lament” and grows sloppy and unfocused. Hedwig’s relationship with Tommy Gnosis, the superstar who stole her heart and her songs but is never seen on stage, is shunted to the side and what we get instead in this national tour is the largely unhealthy, codependent relationship between Hedwig and Yitzhak (Hannah Corneau), her assistant and backup singer.
Corneau makes the perfect foil to Morton’s Hedwig: shy, self-effacing, steady. Given the chance to belt, in “The Long Grift,” it’s clear she’s Morton’s equal in terms of talent. The two share a touching moment when Hedwig hands Yitzhak her wig, a subtle sign suggesting a more promising future for the couple.
Still, there’s plenty to appreciate about the production, starting with its setting on the abandoned stage of a failed production of “Hurt Locker: The Musical.” The tour has gone out of its way to be a localized, wholly up-to-date affair, with references to the “newly annoying H Street Corridor,” Dupont Circle and Bethesda, as well as a few jabs at Donald Trump. “We’re all Melania now,” Hedwig laments.
Morton sees to it that the evening becomes a worthwhile diversion. And he does a great job in service of Trask’s pop ballads that, in an earlier era, would have been chart-topping hits (“The Origin of Love,” “Wicked Little Town”). But if you’re already a fan, it’s not likely that his portrayal or this production will register as your favorite Hedwig — whether your previous exposure was Signature Theatre’s 2002 outing that snagged Rick Hammerly a Helen Hayes Award, or even the scrappy version from 2009 by the now-defunct No Rules Theatre Company. And then, there’s always the movie, starring Mitchell himself.
If Hedwig makes newcomers eager to take in that noteworthy 2001 musical film, well, as Hedwig herself might say, there are much, much worse things in life.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs to July 2 in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $59 to $159. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.
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