Review Roundup: ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the revival of the 1998 rock musical with book by John Cameron Mitchell and songs by Stephen Trask, opened April 22 at the Belasco Theatre. Emmy winner and four-time Tony host Neil Patrick Harris stars as the title character, a transgender, German wanna-be rock star, performing a concert in a Broadway theater after the previous occupant, a musical version of The Hurt Locker, “closed during intermission.” The show was first presented Off-Broadway, starring Mitchell who also headlined the 2001 movie version. It won the Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical and ran for two years. This new version features an updated book by Mitchell and direction by Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot). Lena Hall plays Yitzhak, Hedwig’s Bosnian-Jewish lead guitarist and boyfriend.

The critics shouted themselves hoarse in praise of the new production and Harris. Ben Brantley of The New York Times declared the former sitcom actor has become “a bona fide Broadway star” with this show. A few had some reservations about Harris’ skills, with Linda Winer of Newsday pointing out he may not be “the strongest rock howler” or “the most effortless dancer,” and Matt Windman of AM New York finding his characterization not yet fully developed. But even they were positive overall. Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

 

 Neil Patrick Harris, cast and creative team on stage during the curtain call on opening night of 'Hedwig And The Angry Inch' (Photo: Mike Pont/Getty Images)

Neil Patrick Harris, cast and creative team on stage during the curtain call on opening night of ‘Hedwig And The Angry Inch’ (Photo: Mike Pont/Getty Images)

Ben Brantley, New York Times
“[W]hile Mr. Harris may let you see him sweat as he struts, slithers and leaps through this shamelessly enjoyable show, rousingly directed by Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot), he never makes it feel like heavy lifting.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Lean and mean NPH throws himself into the role and against the walls with reckless flip-your-wig and in-your-face abandonment. And he summons the wounded spirit and sense of yearning to which everyone can relate.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“In cutoff denim shorts, teetering platforms and gigantic blond hair, he relentlessly prowls the stage, occasionally lunging into the audience for a lap dance or two. But it all feels a little too rehearsed, and Harris doesn’t look entirely comfortable clambering over the bombed-out set.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Before our eyes, Harris is opening another chapter in his exceptional show business career with this 90-minute show and he simply crushes it, holding nothing back, softening no edges, making no nice. Doogie Howser is long gone; the macho, tie-wearing Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother has left the building.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“This girl has been through a lot, and Harris, playing her, appears dressed for battle in glittery makeup, fishnet stockings and a gravity-defying blond wig. Over the next 95 minutes, though, Hedwig will slowly cast off her armor, and Harris will throw himself wholeheartedly, and with the full force of his gifts as an actor and showman, into her unsettling but ultimately exhilarating journey.”

 Linda Winer, Newsday
“Harris, who has triumphed in serious musicals, light TV, and award-show hosting, may not be the strongest rock howler who ever sang Stephen Trask’s thrashing, unpredictably touching songs…. But he is extraordinarily lithe and buff, irresistibly endearing and way beyond merely game as Hedwig, who takes us on his journey of self-discovery in the guise of an autobiographical concert.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“Transitioning from child star to adult gay icon, sitcom prince and social-media wizard, Neil Patrick Harris always seemed to be a cultural rock star. But in his latest reinvention, it turns out that the actor is, y’know, an actual rock star. As the imperious, spurned, fright-bewigged, sweaty glitterbomb at the heart of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Harris makes Broadway rock harder than it ever has before.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“The screaming starts when a bespangled Neil Patrick Harris parachutes onstage in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and doesn’t stop until he’s back in his dressing room. That’s the kind of rock-star performance he gives in this spectacular revival…”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“Harris smoothly marries Borscht Belt shtick with a self-serious songspiel style reminiscent of Ute Lemper, spicing his performance with improvisational touches and audience exchanges ranging from flirty asides to a lap-dance. Snugly encased in the character, he recounts the lurid specifics of Hedwig’s life, exposing the scars of her painful past.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“Purists may balk at Harris’ punk-lite vocals on Trask’s infectiously rockin’ score—he’s less Iggy, more pop—and his threats to “cut you, bitch” come off with more of a wink than actual menace. But in a bravura performance, the actor proves the perfect instrument for Hedwig’s transition into world-class superstardom.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“As the radically bewigged centerpiece, Harris gives the kind of spectacular turn he’s only hinted he’s capable of in appearances like his Tony-night host numbers and as Bobby in the LincolnCenterversion of the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth Company.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“While no one can doubt Harris’ fierce theatricality, strong voice and expert handling of the comedy aspects, his Hedwig has yet to come together as a fully-developed, vulnerable character. But given the role’s extreme complexity and grueling physical demands, that’s more than understandable. Chances are that his performance will improve as the run continues.”