It's a risky move to produce any currently nationally popular musical, let alone one that has been made into a nationally (probably even internationally) popular film. Popular film, be it bad or good, sets a standard that all other versions of that film's material--be they screen or stage-oriented--will inevitably be compared to.
Triangle Productions has ignored the risks involved with their production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, though they are not ignorant of them. Before the show I attended even began, producer Donald Horn took the stage to ask the audience who has seen the play before. Nobody had. "Who's seen the movie?" he asked. Every hand in the house shot up. General laughter. "Well, I've always said that the stage production is better," he said.
I imagined that most of the crowd was most likely thinking in response: "This had better be better than the film; It's costing me four times more than the price of a movie ticket to see it."
Fortunately for those reluctant supporters of live theater, Horn is right: the stage version, if done even just adequately (and Triangle's rendition is done more than just adequately; it's done pretty well, in fact), is easily four times better than the film, if not 10 or 11 times better. That statement is not intended to slight the film, which is a quality film. But the Talking Heads concert film, Stop Making Sense, is a quality film, too, and yet--which would you rather watch: a screening of Stop Making Sense, or a live performance of the Talking Heads that you are actually attending?
My hunch is that most would agree that seeing the Talking Heads live and in person is going to be a lot better than seeing them on a screen. And it's the same way with Hedwig, which is at its core a full-on rock 'n' roll show fronted by an incredibly charismatic lead singer. For this reason, Hedwig the stage version has broken down boundaries in the theater world. Its intrinsically theatrical, over the top David Bowie-style glam roots naturally appeal to the melodramatic cheeseballs who already love musicals, and its use of a concert as its dramatic structure defies some of the most basic and detested of musical principles.
Hedwig (Wade McCollom) is a bona fide rock star, and The Angry Inch is her band, and they are playing a show at whatever dive/theater you happen to be seeing them. It's not weird when they sing, because bands are EXPECTED to sing, which is a refreshing change for musical detestors, who can't bear it when fictional characters who aren't expected to sing interrupt perfectly good dialogue and break into song and dance routines that all the other characters, even the extras, seem miraculously to know.
Hedwig is fictional, of course, but the smokey ambience surrounding her, the garbage on her stage, the band behind her that laughs at her jokes...it all feels utterly real. In between the songs, Hedwig tells stories about her life in East Berlin, where she was a he before she endured a botched sex change operation so she could marry a U.S. soldier and come to the states. She also tells the moving story of her futile relationship with rising rock star Tommy Gnosis. Hedwig could tell no stories, though, and the show would still work because the show, ultimately, is all about the music, and the music is awesome. Just like that track off the Talking Heads album that meant so much more when you heard it live, the tunes we all loved in the film version of this play are infinitely more powerful when played by a kick-ass, amped-out band, and when sung by a vamping, gyrating, sweating, audience-lap-sitting Hedwig.
Well, Triangle's band is kick-ass. And McCollom's Hedwig will sit in your lap, and if you still can't get into this musical after all that, then you should be far away, running around with the other accountants. JUSTIN SANDERS