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Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre Chicago)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre Chicago)   
Hedwig and the Angry Inch  

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask  
Text by John Cameron Mitchell
Directed by Kyle Trent
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Aug 11  |  tickets: $20-$32   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
   Read entire review



Best rock opera of our generation shouldn’t be missed!


Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre Chicago)


Haven Theatre presents


Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Review by Clint May 

After fifteen years, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is finally moving from off-off-Broadway to off-Broadway (to a lauded feature film) to Broadway itself. With the support of both Mitchell and Trask and the consummately charismatic Neil Patrick Harris, it’s sure to be a hit when it debuts in the spring. For devoted fans like myself, however, “she” will always be the goddess of the small dive venue. Had I the crafting wherewithal, I would make myself a foam Hedwig-wig a la the 2001 critically-acclaimed movie and be a genuine “Hedhead” at performances. A small crowd is a meta-contextual element for this “internationally ignored” song stylist who is playing to (and interacting with) pathetically minute audiences. We’re meant to feel a part of the act, and not all of the crowd at Monday’s performance “got” that about this production (“There is no fourth wall. I can see you and you can see me.” she wryly assures us to nervous titters). More a rock concert than musical, Haven Theatre has chosen this millennium misfit as their inaugural production, with The Wedding Singer slated to debut this fall.

Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre Chicago)
Hedwig is a raucously funny and fun role to land, and Ryan Lanning is the physical and spiritual embodiment of a character that represents so much about the nature of divisions of all kinds. It’s one of the best setlists you can find in a rock opera or any musically-inclined production, period.

This is of course more than a concert, it’s a tortured tale of a “girly slip of a boy” from East Berlin. When the wall went up, he and his stoic, unloving mother moved into a miniscule apartment so she could teach sculpture to limbless children. With no room for privacy, the would-be Hedwig (still Hansel) listens to the ‘gods’ of American pop rock in the oven. Entranced and intimidated by their power, he dreams of a life beyond his claustrophobic confines. His ticket arrives in the form of a soldier named Luther, who, smitten, offers to marry Hansel and take him back to America with him. The only catch? "To be free, one must give up a little part of oneself" That part isn’t so little. A botched sex change later, and Hansel is now Hedwig, but with a one-inch “mound of flesh.” Trapped in a nether realm between genders, “she” relocates to Junction City, Kansas. On their one year anniversary, he abandons her in the trailer park on the same day the wall falls, making her sacrifices doubly insulting. Destitute, she takes up light prostitution and babysitting to make ends meet. Here she encounters the son of a general—a supremely dorky church geek with some musical inklings named Tommy Speck who begs Hedwig to teach him the ways of rock-and-roll. Their budding romance is cut short when he discovers “what [she] has to work with.” He runs off with the music they co-developed and becomes a huge rock star, only to become embroiled in scandal when he’s discovered in a compromising position with Hedwig.

This is how we meet her. Stalking around the country to follow the newly styled “Tommy Gnosis” as he performs to sold-out crowds and telling her story in cafés and restaurants in an attempt to garner public support on her quest for recognition. Aided by her resentful and much put-upon husband Yitzhak (Lauren Paris), she and her band The Angry Inch tell her story with songs styled after Lennon, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and most overtly, David Bowie. There’s ballads, punk anthems, hard rock, and more, all grounded in Stephen Trask’s deliriously clever, frequently beautiful lyrics. Like Shel Silverstein, or in this case Aristophanes, Hedwig’s core themes are the search for the missing piece of herself that will make her finally whole (most notably summed up in the winsome ballad “The Origin of Love”).

Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre Chicago)

Hedwig was workshopped not in theatres but around drag shows and rock concerts before finally debuting in 1998. Characters are roughly autobiographical for Mitchell, who based Tommy on himself and Hedwig on his childhood babysitter. As a character, Hedwig must ride a consistently fine line between several dichotomies: male/female, tough/vulnerable, independent/yearning, campy/world-wise, angry/hurting, bitter/accepting. It takes a more than just a skilled singer with a svelte physique and comically mannish features or even the trademark over-the-top Farrah Fawcett hair to nail the role. Lanning has the voice, the comic timing and the heart to electrify an audience (props to the man in the front row who brought out a lighter for the finale. Would that we all had thought to bring one!). Dialect Coach Cate Gillespie has given Lanning the trademark muddled-yet-sultry East German accent buried under years of Midwestern life. In a spotlight-stealing moment, we get to see that Paris has pipes of her own. The best—perhaps only—thing a director like Kyle Trent can do is set the stage and stand back to let the production take on a life of its own. It feels as immediately improvised and “live” as it should.

Hilarious and heartfelt, Hedwig is an indelible character. You don’t have to love alternative lifestyles to find her struggles relatable. Not only will the music stick with you days after the performance, but so too will her embodiment of the yearning in all of us to find completion. Like the mythology frequently referenced at eclectic will throughout, she is a constellation in the heaven; a hard-rock gutter saint we love and adore, foibles and all. So here’s to “the misfits and the losers” in all of us. Rock out, rock on, and – when she tells you to lift up your hands – do it.


Rating: ★★★★



Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues through August 11th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30pm, Sundays 6pm.  Tickets are $20-$32, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 90 minutes)

Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre Chicago)




Ryan Lanning (Hedwig), Lauren Paris (Yitzhak)


Kory Danielson (keyboard), Eric Engelson (drums), Nicholas Davio (guitar), Zach Moore (bass)

behind the scenes

Kyle Trent (director), Kory Danielson (music director), Carol Cohen (producer, costume design), Garvin Jellison (production manager), Fernando Alvarez, Jr. (stage manager), Jenna Moran (sound design), Kevin Fairbairn (sound mixer), Daniel Friedman (lighting design), Cate Gillespie (dialect coach), Ben Dawson (technical director), Nicholas Wixom (make-up artist)

Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre Chicago)

Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre Chicago)


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