Last Updated on 31st March 2015
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
1 November 2014
Cast changes on Broadway fall into, essentially, two categories. The first is what is commonly thought of as the Hal Prince/Cameron Macintosh approach: the replacement does it as near as possible to the original. Well, after all, if it ain’t broken, why fix it?
The second, almost as rare as the Giant Panda these days, permits the replacement to make their own mark on the role, to find their own way, to give to the role what they, and only they, can give and what, perhaps, the originator could not.
In recent Broadway seasons, Giant Pandas have been rarer than Tony Lifetime Achievement Awards. But they are there.
When Marin Mazzie took over from Alice Ripley in Next To Normal, she found an entirely new approach to the part of the bi-polar mother: more subtle, more inner turmoil, more constantly in tune. When Darren Criss took over from Daniel Radcliffe in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, he demonstrated why Radcliffe was perfect in the role. When Bernadette Peters took over from Catherine Zeta Jones in A Little Night Music, she found more faded glamour, more genuine interaction with her co-stars, more true mother and daughter in Desiree. When Will Chase took over from Matthew Broderick in Nice Work If You Can Get It, he was radically different, making the playboy alive, with energy, gusto, beauty and style and he really sang the mellifluous Gershwin score for its full value.
This is not to say that the originators of these roles in those shows were not incredibly gifted – they were. Well, some were. But it is not always the case that the first choice of producers for casts is the best; sometimes replacement cast members can, if allowed, unearth theatrical magic not possible with the original cast.
Equally, and obviously more often, replacements are not as good as the original performer and, no matter how talented the replacement, something ineffable is lost when the originator departs.
Michael Mayer’s production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch, now playing on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre, was originally conceived as a vehicle for Neil Patrick Harris. He seemed an unlikely choice, but proved to be an inspired one, delivering a powerhouse performance of camp glory, ribald audience interaction, and vocal dynamism which drove audiences into a frenzy and secured Harris the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
His performance earned a 5 star review here on britishtheatre.com.
Michael C. Hall, of Six Feet Under and Dexter fame, is now playing Hedwig and while the production is the same, the performance is completely different from that which Harris gave.
Hall imbues the proceedings with a darkness, an unpleasant black streak of viscous, visceral shame and stark despair which is as profoundly engaging as it is uncomfortable and edgy. Everything is more brutal, more alarming, more hurtful, more depressing.
Hall firmly puts the He into Hedwig.
It’s a much more masculine turn than Harris gave; yet, simultaneously, it is a performance charged with grim sexual power, with alarming, overbearing femininity and with a tangible sense of real loss and sacrifice. Hedwig’s pain is expertly unravelled, layer by layer.
Hall sings with a vibrant, potent voice; he is easily equal to the vocal demands here. Indeed, his final turn, Midnight Radio, is incandescent, that miraculous fusion of vocal dexterity (no pun intended), astonishing acting and star quality.
Sugar Daddy and Hedwig’s Lament are Hall’s other outstanding numbers, although he accepts the many and varied challenges of the role and shines constantly.
He might not be as physically fit as Harris was, but then he is two years older and, really, in superb physical from. When he appears in his tight, black, vinyl mini-pants, he certainly does not disappoint his audience.
If there is a small niggling doubt, it is this: Hall appears more at home as the man who destroyed Hedwig than Hedwig himself; but then Harris was more at home with Hedwig, than Tommy. But the truth is the performer needs to manage both characters – and, just as Harris did, so does Hall.
It’s sort of like the difference between Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in the X-Men movies: they are both outstanding, but each brings different skills to the table.
Harris was more improvisational showgirl; Hall prefers to cut deeply into the darkness of Hedwig’s soul and unleash it in all it a viscous, all-pervading frenzy. Both are legitimate interpretations and both work spectacularly well.
Lena Hall seems much more assured, more assertive and more explicitly wonderful now than when she appeared with Harris. But that might be about winning a Tony award more than anything else. Somehow, the definite impression is that the graven gravitas that Hall brings to proceedings brings out the best in Hall; with C Hall, her Yitzhak is better than it has ever been.
I did not expect to enjoy this incarnation of Hedwig And The Angry Inch as much as I did the Neil Patrick Harris version. Yet, I did – absolutely and in every way.
As Sondheim puts it, There Are Giants In The Sky; right now, on Broadway, there is a Giant Panda in the sky in the Belasco Theatre. It’s Michael C Hall. And while he does not dim the light of Neil Patrick Harris’ performance, Hall puts it firmly into perspective.
See it – you will not regret it. Flamboyant, fabulous and fracking great theatre.