There are few musicals quite like Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It’s the story of a lost soul looking for love, a broken heart trying to mend, and a curious journey that takes us from a boy living behind the Berlin Wall to a “one-inch mound of flesh” and a few fabulous blonde wigs.
Hedwig is currently running on Broadway, featuring Taye Diggs as the latest in a long line of celebrity leads who have taken on the glittery mantle with varying degrees of success—or failure. (According to a deliciously catty first-hand report, Diggs looks like Wesley Snipes from To Wong Foo and showcases an accent that is less Hansel from Germany and more Sebastian the Crab. Ouch.)
But despite any star power the Broadway version is trading on to sell tickets, it’s hard to imagine it topping the absolutely ferocious performances from stars Kyle Igneczi and Grace Neeley in this Uptown Players production.
Igneczi is completely transformed as Hedwig—think Ziggy Stardust meets RuPaul’s Drag Race. He commands your attention from the moment he appears in the spotlight, stalking down the aisle like a supermodel in towering platform heels. His jokes are biting and on point, and his presence is so natural and genuine it feels at times like a conversation with an old friend. Igneczi spares the audience nothing, not one ounce of feeling or one drop of sweat, and leaves it all on stage when Hedwig strips the artifice away and finally accepts who he is, where he came from, and where he wants to go next.
In contrast, Neeley seems almost insignificant next to the larger-than-life Igneczi, suited for the background shadows she hides in as Hedwig’s much-abused husband, roadie, and backup singer. But her gorgeous voice cannot be hidden, especially once it’s her turn in the spotlight, when she turns everything up to maximum volume. Perhaps the best part of Neeley’s performance is her sharp comedic timing. Before the show even really starts, she already has the audience in fits of laughter.
The Angry Inch Band, made up of Justin Labosco on drums, Rick Norman on bass, and Jason Bennett on guitar, are the perfect complement to Igneczi and Neeley on stage. Not only can they rock out on their respective instruments for the entirety of the 100-minute show with nary an intermission, but they mesh so well with the actors that you’d think they’ve been playing smoky bars together for years.
Derek Whitener and Victor Brockwell’s costumes and Laura Neeley’s makeup complete the actors’ brilliant metamorphoses, cloaking Yitzhak in baggy pants, stubble, and black leather and wrapping Hedwig in fishnet, sequins, and candy. The outfits are almost characters unto themselves, with Coy Covington’s towering wigs definitely garnering a curtain call of their own.
The set, designed by Bart McGeehon, is spare and utilitarian, allowing plenty of room for Igneczi to cover the length of the stage during his songs. The lack of artifice lets the clever video projection work and Amanda West’s lighting design lend extra feeling and movement to various scenes in a way that many shows try yet fail to achieve.
The brilliance of John Cameron Mitchell is that he was able to write a show that resonates on so many different emotional levels even when the performances aren’t quite up to snuff. (Sorry, Taye Diggs.) However, when a smart director like Jeremy Dumont assembles a cast like this to tackle the material, it is something more than just a show—it’s a memorable experience. That’s theater at its very best, and Uptown Players delivers it with panache, polish, and yes, a lot of glitter.