Sunday, June 15, 2014


Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig. It couldn't be better casting.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a hugely popular cult musical created by John Cameron Mitchell and composer Stephen Trask. The show, about a down-and-out transgendered rock star named Hedwig, is a blend of musical theatre and a rock concert. The results are powerful.

The original cast, however, is iconic. For most fans, John Cameron Mitchell is, and always will be, the definitive Hedwig. Given this, how does the immensely talented Neil Patrick Harris measure up?

Well, he's no John Cameron Mitchell. But, luckily for us, he's not trying to be.

Harris exudes palpable sexuality and even warmth as the titular character, even in his audio-only presence on the album. His voice may not be as full and lush as Mitchell's, but he still sports a fine instrument and carries the demanding hard rock score with aplomb and deceptive ease. There's a bit of unevenness sometimes, however... while most of the time, we get lost in Hedwig and go along for the ride with her, there are other times where, distractingly, it just sounds like Neil Patrick Harris. Perhaps its because Harris' voice isn't exactly foreign to people, but there are a few times where we lose Hedwig and just get an earful of Neil. However, this is only a minor quibble. He sounds particularly stellar when he sings as Tommy Gnosis on Wicked Little Town and when he channels overwhelming edge and sass for the thunderous Tear Me Down. He's also emotionally compelling on the finale, Midnight Radio.

Stephen Trask has written new arrangements for much of his iconic glam rock score, but has smartly maintained the skeleton of every song. They sound different enough that there's an exciting newness to the music, but not too much that we lose what makes the songs so great. The most different is Sugar Daddy, which has been effectively changed from a soft and twangy country tune into a pulsating heavy rock anthem. For the most part, however, this is the Hedwig we all know and love.

The big revelation here is Lena Hall as Yitzak, who earns her Tony Award here with an astounding vocal performance. Hall's lungs of steel make her background vocals the main attraction on Midnight Radio, and she's riveting in her one solo piece The Long Grift. There's a chemistry between Hall and Harris that shines.

What can be said about Hedwig and the Angry Inch? It's a landmark in rock musical theatre, and while this new recording isn't the definitive version of the show, it still contains all of the palpable energy, power, exuberance, and poignancy that you'd want and need. Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall are simply electric. If you're a fan of the show, and even if you're not, this recording is a must have.

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