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REVIEW: Hedwig and The Angry Inch

Photo Courtesy of Pollard Theatre
Matthew Alvin Brown as Hedwig in The Pollard Theatre's production of "Hedwig and The Angry Inch."
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The musical Hedwig and The Angry Inch may seem like such a creature of its era (late 1990s) that it would fail the test of time. Actually, the production now being presented by Pollard Theatre Company has an unexpected currency. And the production has something else, too.

Matthew Alvin Brown and Renee Anderson confirmed to me that this will be their last Hedwig. (Well, both said “never say never.”) Brown has played the title role in several productions of this show since 2002 -remember The Chocolate Factory and Starving Shark Productions? Those were the days. Anderson has played Hedwig’s sidekick opposite Brown over the past seven years.

 If you’ve never seen Brown and Anderson in this show or if you want to see them for what likely will be the last time, you better get a move on. They will be in the Pollard production through October 21. Then, Jared Blount and Beth Lipton take over the roles through October 28. I don’t know Lipton, but the mutilated Mädchen could be a good role for Blount.

With text by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, the show tells the tale of Hansel, a “girlyboy” in East Berlin who lands an opportunity to escape the Iron Curtain. Some unfortunate events cause him to end up in Junction City, Kansas, as a, more or less, female, known as Hedwig. In the show, Hedwig tells her story accompanied by her band, The Angry Inch.

The text includes puns, sight gags and local and contemporary references. At one critical point, Hedwig mentions an accident involving a “short bus,” which must be a nod to Mitchell’s 2006 film Shortbus. Trump rears his ugly head by implication.

Brown has been doing Hedwig so long, he must have tried many nuances, subtleties, inflections, subtexts and refinements in the role. In this production, he does the darkest, most disturbing Hedwig yet, which gives the show a freshness. Better than ever, he delineates the other characters he plays, which clarifies the story.

As Hedwig, Brown carries the show, but as Hedwig’s sidekick, Yitzhak, Anderson elevates the production to another level. The role has practically no dialog, so Anderson has to create the character through his masculine gait, slouch and surliness. Hedwig demeans Yitzhak throughout the show, and Anderson’s performance elicits sympathy for the character.  Anderson is a classically trained singer, so she has the musical chops needed for the role. She’s excellent in every way.

Pollard has not skimped on this production. James A. Hughes’s cluttered scenic design goes to great lengths to look like nothing. Joshua McGowen’s costumes are relatively understated for this show but are consistent with the overall design. He even puts Hedwig in a little black dress.

Hedwig’s band, The Angry Inch, is an integral part of the show. They are Jason Hunt (piano/guitar/music director), Joel Anderson (bass), Tristan Gfeller (guitar) and Aaron Marshall (drums).

The production includes some superfluous projections. During “The Origin of Love,”  animated images appear on a scrim at the front of the stage. Later, when Hedwig refers to gummy bears, a photo of a gummy bear is shown on a screen upstage. This will be a tremendous help to people who don’t know what a gummy bear is.

A large part of Hedwig concerns transformation, transition and, well, just trans. Both Hedwig and Yitzhak undergo changes during the show, which may be more relevant today than when Mitchell and Trask first did the off-Broadway production in 1998.

If this turns out to be the last Hedwig for Brown and Anderson—and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is,—we shouldn’t hold it against them for heeding the old show business admonition to leave the audience wanting more. It’s been a great run for theatergoers. And we’ll always have our memories of these wonderful actors doing terrific jobs in roles that were just right for them. But Brown and Anderson aren’t retiring from the stage; they are in their prime. Theatergoers can look forward to these artists creating new memories for a long time to come.

Hedwig and The Angry Inch
Friday, October 20th, 2017 8:00pm to Saturday, October 28th, 2017 8:00pm
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave
Guthrie, OK 73044
Prices from: $30.00

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Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for...

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