“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” – Phoenix Theatre

Theater Review – September 24, 2017


Hormel Theatre, Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

With its stellar “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” production, Phoenix Theatre has taken a giant step from just producing the more traditional musicals they usually do so well to presenting the more off-beat musicals that explore bizarre contemporary life issues.  Not everyone will like “Hedwig…” but for those lucky enough to see this remarkably sleazy but artful staging, welcome to the new world of contemporary musicals.

“Hedwig…” centers on the title characters impersonation of a glamorous but fictional East German female singer, Hedwig Robinson.  Due to a flawed sex change operation, Hedwig is a sleazy blonde but sexless seductress.  John Cameron Mitchell’s story is based on his childhood as a U.S. Major General’s son where Hedwig was inspired by a divorced German Army wife who babysat the boy while performing other services for the soldiers.  Stephen Trask’s original score is inspired by ‘70s rock hits.  The show premiered off-Broadway in 1998 followed by its 2014 Broadway debut that starred Neil Patrick Harris and won that year’s Best Revival of a Musical Tony Award.

Phoenix Theatre rarely presents such rock-inspired shows but “Hedwig…” is guaranteed to stretch PT’s existing audience while adding younger theatergoers to its traditional audience.  It’s interesting that “Hedwig…” is playing in PT’s Hormel Theatre while next door in its Mainstage playhouse, the theater is presenting a winsome “Mamma Mia” featuring ABBA pop hits that accompany a  conventional romantic tale.  Talk about two very diverse but stellar productions that should appeal to different audiences.

“Hedwig…” requires a talented cast and a swinging band so it can explode all over the stage as the two characters present their edgy story and crazy individuals.  Pasha Yamotahari’s splashy production is blessed with Caleb Reese’s dynamically pervasive characterization of Hedwig.  It’s a superb performance in a role where a male performer must strut as a slutty female chanteuse and glamorous sex kitten.  It’s a performance of great emotional and heart-wrenching depth enhanced by brilliant singing and sexy dancing.  The show’s other character, Yitzhak, serves as Hedwig’s assistant and back-up singer.  The part is played with appropriately masculine swagger by Alyssa Chiarello in another marvelously gender-bender interpretation.

The dazzling score is played by a four-person musical ensemble that captures the score’s throbbing intensity.  The small Hormel Theater has been transformed into a squalid German nightclub.  This Phoenix Theatre “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” staging was co-produced with the A/C Theatre Company.

Phoenix Theatre’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” dazzles with sparkling glitz and smashing glamour.  It’s another PT triumph that continues through November 12.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A