The Tony Awards and the Broadway cognoscenti want to give Neil Patrick Harris a Tony Award so badly you actually hear it whispered in the wind near the Booth Theater. Just close your eyes and the chatter gets louder. He’s hosted the Tonys a few times, he’s a song and dance man, he can play just about every position the show business ballfield. This year it would take Zero Mostel resurrected from the grave to block the former Doogie Howser, MD from getting the Best Actor in a Musical award for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
The revival of “Hedwig” opened last night; I saw it on Saturday night because of a scheduling conflict. The audience, with few exceptions, went wild through the whole show– and there’s no intermission. The original 1998 show has been amended and padded out to make it a Broadway length– roughly 100 minutes. There are plenty of fresh topical references, as well as a long history of the Belasco Theater explained by Hedwig. It makes no sense, since Hedwig is supposed to be a gender bending gay punk star in East Berlin circa 1988. So suspend disbelief.
The new Hedwig script also entails a long ramble about the Shuberts and their leader, Bob Wankel. It’s funny, I guess, if you know inside theater stuff. Otherwise, it’s one of too many odd digressions.
“Hedwig” rises and falls on Harris. He’s the whole show, and has no understudy. The crowd outside to greet him after the show and get an autograph is deep and unyielding. This is How I Met Your Musical Comedy Star.
“Hedwig” is LOUD. Really LOUD. The songs are good rock songs, very catchy. But some of them are so loud, so faux punk, you have no idea what Hedwig is singing about. I will tell you: on his way to being transgender, Hedwig was disgendered surgically. His ‘angry inch’ is a former penis that is not a vagina. That’s Hedwig’s story and he/she’s sticking to it. And that is the whole story.
Or maybe the whole story is about fitting in and finding yourself. This is all Hedwig wants. Harris is not as moving as the show’s creator, John Cameron Mitchell, was years ago. But times have changed, too. Harris plays it as Hedwig’s right, and dammit, he’s going to have everything. He even sings a bit of the defiant anthem “I Am Woman.”
There are a lot of people in the Broadway theater community who want Jefferson Mays to win Best Actor in a Musical for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Good luck with that. Harris is headed to a coronation, unless something goes very wrong.