Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

‘Hedwig’ is glam rock concert disguised as theater

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★☆

Darren Criss sparkles in title role of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Darren Criss sparkles in title role of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Tony winner Lena Hall does double duty in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Tony winner Lena Hall does double duty in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” comes as close to a hard rock concert as a theatrical production can.

I found it wonderful.

In dual senses of that word: outstanding and full of wonder.

Even though the music fell into all three of my least favorite decibel counts: a little loud, unbelievably loud and eardrum-shattering loud.

And I sat only a few rows from the orchestra level’s rear. Under the overhang.

Blinding strobe lights on both sides of the stage didn’t help.

That said, the show was an exquisite two-person performance (ably assisted by four first-rate onstage musicians) — starring Darren Criss, who figuratively and literally sparkled in the title role on Broadway for 12 weeks last year, and Lena Hall, Tony winner who shone as Yitzhak, significant other who thrives on verbally abusing Hedwig.

Both are native San Franciscans who make the Bay Area proud.

Gender-bent Hedwig narrates her own story, speckling it with blatantly sexual jokes — from his time as a naïve “slip of a girlyboy” in East Berlin named Hansel to her grim trailer park existence in Kansas eking out a living with glam performances in the likes of Sizzler salad bars.

The character is equal parts waggish and angry.

As a straight guy, I can’t really relate to it. But if I had a different orientation and my surgeon had botched a sex-change operation that left me with a mutilated mound of flesh, an “angry inch,” I wouldn’t have found anything funny about it.

Hedwig, whose main intent had been to follow his Army love to America, has no choice but to accept his new physicality.

“To walk away, you gotta leave something behind,” laments the genderqueer.

The enthusiastic opening night audience — gender and ethnic diverse, mostly youngish — at one point gleefully waved its collective arms as if it were at a 20th century rock concert of yesterday, missing only the flames from thousands of Zippo lighters.

thumbs-up1The crowd seemed to love every minute of the musical.

But it appeared most taken with “The Origin of Love,” a song based on Aristophanes that suggests three sexes once existed but were split in two by angry gods, resulting in an eternal yearning for their missing half.

In keeping with that concept, one of the musical’s major themes, Hall will play the Hedwig role one performance each week of the local run.

Which means that for those few shows she rather than Criss (a “Glee” TV grad) will get to stick her head under the hood of an old car and pretend it’s an oven; periodically open a door that lets her hear a concert from AT&T Park where her successful ex-boyfriend, Tommy Gnosis, draws ecstatic cheers and screams from songs she wrote and he stole; and wear stunning costumes by Arianne Phillips and equally stunning wigs designed by Mike Potter, including a couple almost as big as those in Beach Blanket Babylon.

Although I usually don’t like gimmicks, a pair of them added to my enjoyment — a momentary “follow the bouncing ball” sequence about wigs, and mock playbills strewn throughout the theater for “Hurt Locker: The Musical,” an imaginary 6-hour, 4-minute extravaganza containing such charming allusions as “music and lyrics by Metallica and Stephen R. Schwartz,” creative opposites.

I admired the 2001 “Hedwig” film that starred John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the book for the stage show. But that version was more cerebral than this visceral one.

Vive la différence.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” plays at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco, through Oct. 30. Night performances, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Matinees, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $45 to $212 (subject to change). Information: (888) 746-1799 or

 Contact Woody Weingarten at at or