Monday , May 20 2024
A towering performance by the former 'Glee' star is a revelation.

Theater Review (NYC Broadway): Darren Criss in ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’

Stepping into the spotlight of the gargantuan Broadway cabaret show known as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a magnetic Darren Criss leaves far behind the milquetoasty character that made him famous on TV’s horrendously Auto-Tuned Glee.

John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s glam-rock musical won four Tony Awards upon its opening last year: Best Actor in a Musical for Neil Patrick Harris, Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Lena Hall, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, and Best Revival of a Musical. It’s a revival of an Off-Broadway show, though – Hedwig had never graced the Broadway stage before Harris’s much publicized and much praised debut in the role.

Since Harris left, several Hedwigs have come and gone, including Mitchell himself, who created the role of the bewigged, bigger-than-life, botched-sex-change victim searching for his torn-away metaphorical other half in the 1998 Off-Broadway production.

I’m sure they were all good. All I can say is, Criss’s towering performance is a revelation. And plenty of Gleeks turned out to see him the night I attended, jumping and whooping without knowing the lyrics to the songs (which is how I deduced they came via Glee and not Hedwig). This wallop of a show has the power to convert TV fans to theaterhounds if anything does.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Belasco Theatre, Darren Criss, Rebecca Naomi Jones

Criss gets strong support from a twistedly charismatic Rebecca Naomi Jones (Passing Strange) as Yitzhak, four fine onstage rock musicians, bang-up glam costumes (by Arianne Phillips), and those titanic wigs (by Mike Potter) called out in the song “Wig in a Box.” Kevin Adams’ lighting and the artfully childlike animations add atmosphere and spectacle. But all would be for nought without an intensely charismatic Hedwig, and Criss fits the bill and more as the self-obsessed, spiteful, and gleefully punning antihero who proves herself heroic after all in soldiering on through disappointment after disappointment.

The smashing (and smashed-up) set reflects the conceit of a fake Hurt Locker musical that supposedly opened and closed in one day, leaving its set for Hedwig’s act. While funny, this wasn’t absolutely necessary. The presence of a more down-and-out than up-and-coming Hedwig on a Broadway stage and the modern-day references (“, or as we called it back then, church”) don’t need a contrived explanation. Unlike the movie version, the stage show succeeds in coming off as a high-concept (and very loud) cabaret act, performed, like many such shows, by a single character who alternates songs with the story of a life. It’s a show containing a narrative, not a narrative presented in the form of a show. The gorgeously decorated but intimate Belasco Theater is the perfect venue. My disbelief was easily suspended.

That is, until the beat-up car at center stage was pulled up and away on ropes. But by that time the show had worked its musical and emotional magic. When, near the end, a rising column lifts Hedwig high above the stage to sing a reprise of “Wicked Little Town,” at last bereft of costumes and wigs and no longer looking like a woman at all, her domination is as complete as the undoing of her image.

Only the loss of some lyrics amid the loud rock music made my enjoyment incomplete. Trask’s lyrics are singularly evocative and it’s a shame to miss any of them. Fortunately this happens only in parts of a few numbers.

Given fresh life by a performer who has the voice, the moves, the charisma, and the laser-like focus the role demands, the tragedy and triumph of this now iconic character add up to a magnificent treat for Hedwigians, Gleeks, and glam-rock lovers alike, as well as theatergoers of any stripe as long as they’re tolerant of high volume and some sexual content.

Darren Criss continues in Hedwig and the Angry Inch until July 19. Taye Diggs takes over July 22.


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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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  1. It’s actually Tommy that sings the reprise of Wicked Little Town not Hedwig. Thus the lifting of the car, Tommy is on a different stage. It was very obvious, especially if you’ve seen the movie. Darren’s Tommy and Hedwig ARE very different in sound and body language. One of the greatest parts of the show.

  2. As a lifelong Hedwig fan, I recently saw the show with Darren and had the pleasure of being carwashed.

    I thought the Broadway version lost some of its sparkle and at the same time, it’s grit. However, seeing the show with John Cameron Mitchell (the creator) and now Darren, I can say that it does work with the absolute right actors for the part. Darren was fantastic, if a little green (he’s just young, he can’t help that he looks a good 5 years younger than he actually is – I looked it up!) for Hedwig.

  3. María Luján Sarazola

    So, ALL the Gleeks attending can’t be able to like the show enough to learn the lyrics of the songs beforehand? There’s no possibility of a Glee fan recently becoming aware of Hedwig and doing some research and eventually liking the show for its whole (and not just the current lead)? Such a shame, Stephen’s work in here is truly one of a kind…