Neil Patrick Harris dons the iconic wig on his iconic head. Credit: Joan Marcus
Watching “Hedwig” only makes it more incredulous that Neil Patrick Harris never before helmed his own Broadway show, but even more apparent that he waited to find just the right vehicle and the right time to take — and take, and take, and take — center stage.
Our Friday night showing of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” was full of boisterous, hard-core fans. Some were there for NPH rather than, necessarily, the musical — usually easy to differentiate. And there were also plenty of people going in blind, just enthusiastic to see a hugely hyped rock ’n’ roll musical and reflecting the energy coming at them from the rest of the crowd. Everyone was having a great time well before the first musician stepped onstage. By the time NPH showed up, descending from the rafters in his notorious blonde wig? Forget it.
What follows is an uninterrupted 100-minute glam rock show with songs following the narrative of the life and times of Hedwig, born Hansel, who near-completed a sex change in the 1980s in order to bypass the Berlin Wall and come to America. The operative word there is “near,” since, as we come to find out, the operation was botched: hence the angry inch, for which Hedwig’s present back-up band is named. But hey, she made it over here to play this “one-night-only” concert just for us in Times Square! Yes, the play makes conceits to play out in present-day NYC. Well, by that we mean terrible jokes about “The Lion King” and “The Hurt Locker,” so really it’s just groan-worthy humor for middle-aged tourists, as per on the Great White Way.
But don’t let that detract from the essence of the play: It does hold up 16 years after it originally played off-Broadway and 13 years since the movie, starring creator John Cameron Mitchell. NPH is no JCM, but you have to forgive him for that. While his voice doesn’t have the same strength and caliber as a real rock artist, and his German accent tends to waft in and out, there’s no doubt that he’s giving it his all in every single moment of the show. He effortlessly supplies all of the brass and sass necessary to make broad audiences fall in love with a bitter, foul-mouthed and fallen heroine; and damn, if he doesn’t look great doing it.
But his talent truly shines when he’s able to sing in his natural range, transforming into Tommy Gnosis and crooning “Wicked Little Town.” As the play winds down and Hedwig’s defenses lower, along with the sets, we also get to see a little more of the talented five-person band and much more of the exceptionally talented Lena Hall, who’s rightfully just been nominated for a Tony Award for her work as Hedwig’s “husband,” Yitzhak. Director Michael Mayer also got a nod last week. And, yes, Neil Patrick Harris has been nominated too — but was there ever any doubt?