Olney Theatre Center presents Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directed by Johanna McKeon. Part musical, part rock concert, and part stand-up comedy, this avant-garde production packs a thrilling punch! With book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, Hedwig is full of stunning vocals and powerhouse performances. I had so much fun that I bought another pair of tickets and plan on seeing it again, which has happened only one other time in the 10-plus years I’ve been reviewing shows.
The first nonbinary performer to win a Helen Hayes Award for Best Performance, Mason Alexander Park (Netflix’s Cowboy BeBop) is magnificent as Hedwig, a punk-rock performer who rebuffs typical description and stereotypes in the opening number, “Tear Me Down.” The German native is transported to America after a botched gender reassignment surgery, and Hedwig is struggling to break into popular culture — she finds herself performing at the same old dive bars while a past lover takes major credit for her work. Scenic and Costume Designer Jacob A. Climber does a great job in transforming a historic theater stage into a cluttered and chaotic rock concert platform, complete with well-worn instruments and untidily stacked, duct-taped speakers.
Music Director Christopher Youstra leads a live band on stage, and with effects from Lighting Designer Max Doolittle and Sound Designer Matt Rowe, the combined atmosphere brings about the same awed reaction as a Fourth of July fireworks display. Projections designed by Patrick Lord bring another layer to the show and are especially helpful in illustrating Hedwig’s anecdotes.
An ultimate survivor, Hedwig shares her stories with the audience directly, engaging them with a quick wit while blithely accepting sips of water from Yitzhak, her put-upon husband. Chani Wereley is wondrous as Yitzhak, a sad, stony-faced man who only begins to show real excitement when he begins to sing — which Hedwig shuts down almost immediately once the cheering audience realizes just how talented her husband is.
A steady undercurrent of insecurity is palpable from Hedwig; even as she gains laugh after laugh from her hilarious jokes, they are always at the expense of others (not even the audience is safe!). She is incredibly entertaining, but she is also cold to those around her, and only seems truly comfortable while performing her songs. The musical numbers run the emotional gamut, from the enraging “Angry Inch” to the poignant “Wicked Little Town.” As Hedwig’s story winds toward a cathartic ending, Park’s portrayal is guttural, derisive, and also endearingly vulnerable. The amount of energy needed for one evening as Hedwig seems monumental, and Mason gives it their all. The resultant performance is masterful and guaranteed to stay with you for a long time after.
Olney Theatre Center’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch isn’t for the faint-hearted. Aside from its general raucous nature, there are effects such as stage fog and strobe lighting that can be a deterrent for some. It’s also LOUD, and not just from the music…the audience’s standing ovation was so enthusiastic that it left my ears ringing. If you want an evening full of excitement, look no further!
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes without an intermission.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays through January 2, 2022, at Olney Theatre Center —2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road in Olney, MD. Tickets begin at $59. Discounts are available for groups, seniors, military, and students. Tickets can be purchased online.
COVID Safety: Masks and proof of COVID vaccination are required at all performances.
Age Guidance: If this were a film it would be rated R for sex, drugs, rock & roll, and partial nudity.