In the quiet town of Olney, rock music and musical theater have once again collided, this time in a wild display of glittery blue eyeshadow and fishnet tights. Under the direction of Johanna McKeon, the Olney Theatre Center’s production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” proves itself to be a smashing success as it manages to combine musical theater, rock music, and stand-up comedy all at once.
Led by the incomparable Mason Alexander Park, who uses the pronouns they/them, in the titular role, “Hedwig” tells the tale of Hedwig and her band, the Angry Inch, as she is forced to perform down the street from the more successful concert of her former lover-turned-rival, Tommy Gnosis. Large portions of the show are presented in stand up fashion with Hedwig speaking directly to her audience as she shares her story. Park easily combines a striking intensity with quick-witted dry humor as they effortlessly spin a web of memories, love, loss, and pain. Intermixed with soulful, intense, head-banging rock songs, Hedwig describes her life growing up in East Germany as a western-rock-music-loving boy. A botched gender reassignment surgery left her with what she called her “angry inch,” leading her on a quest for acceptance and self-identity.
From the moment the lights go down, Park holds their audience captive. Their storytelling abilities combine with a fierce physicality to create a character that can not only sing like the rock gods from which musical writers Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell drew their inspiration, but inspires people as well. When combined with Park’s ability to give an all out rock concert (complete with lighting, staging, and backdrop graphics, thanks to lighting designer Max Doolittle, sound designer Matt Rowe, and Projection Designer Patrick Lord), the cast of Hedwig manages to create something special.
Park’s vocal abilities would be impressive on their own. But when combined with their comedic timing, they manage to add another layer of humor to this already dynamic show. As Park throws in subtle (and not so subtle) innuendos and sly comments about the Olney Theatre Center and the surrounding area, pop culture references like Uber, Darren Criss, and the pandemic all have a place on Hedwig’s stage. Even the Olney Theatre Center’s concurrent production of “Beauty and the Beast” makes an appearance, thanks to some well-placed sarcasm and wit.
But one cannot discuss Hedwig without discussing her husband Yitzhak. Played by powerhouse vocalist Chani Wereley, Yitzhak is Hedwig’s assistant and back-up singer. However, Wereley deserves center stage, and instead takes over with her heart-wrenching rendition of “The Long Grift,” accompanied by the incredibly talented band behind her (Manny Arciniega, Jaime Ibacache, Jason Wilson, and Christopher Youstra).
While the production is not “musical theater” in the traditional sense of the word, it still maintains that same feel good energy. With a powerful lesson about love, self-acceptance, and embracing our true selves, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is worth every jaw-dropping second.
The production runs 90 minute without intermission, and tickets can be purchased here. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” runs at the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Maryland through January 2, 2022.
Note that the production makes use of strobe lighting, stage fog, haze, and loud music. If this were a film it would be rated R for sex, drugs, and partial nudity.
All photo credit to Stan Barouh