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Theater Sat Jul 20 2013

Critic's Choice: Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Theater Wit

Hedwig_1.jpeg"I was born on the other side of a town ripped in two," Hedwig sings in the opening song of the rock-opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch presented by Haven Theatre and now playing at Theater Wit. "I made it over the great divide -- now I'm comin' for you."

Born in communist East Berlin, Hedwig (played by Ryan Lanning) leads a traumatic childhood, to say the least. To escape from a cold mother and bleak life, Hedwig finds a comforting spot in the house -- the family's oven -- and listens to rock and roll musicians like Tony Tennille, Debby Boone, and Lou Reed. Rock music becomes Hedwig's hope, as does Luther, an American GI. With gummy bears in hand, Luther meets Hedwig in an abandoned bomb crater. As it goes, Luther (aka "sugar daddy") asks Hedwig to marry him -- only problem, well: penis. Luther worries that customs will do a full body search and deny them marriage.

At its core Hedwig is about a person who must make choices, for freedom, for love, for rock and roll. It's about self-love and the ways we figure it out. Hedwig decides to go ahead and fake a passport and get a sex-change in order to leave Germany (also, in the throes of love -- it's complicated). But, the operation doesn't go as planned. "My sex change operation got botched -- my guardian angel fell asleep on the watch," Hedwig sings. "Now, all I got is a Barbie doll crotch -- I've got an angry inch!"

Hedwig moves to the states, Luther eventually leaves, the wall goes down. This is Hedwig's luck. But, as does any rock and roller Hedwig moves on and starts performing original songs in a coffee house. To make ends meet, Hedwig takes on baby-sitting gigs and meets the teenaged pastor's son Tommy Speck. This is when the real rock and roll, the sex, the lies, the stealing, amps up. Cue: strobe lights.

In college I must have watched the movie version of Hedwig -- starring and directed and text (he did a lot) by John Cameron Mitchell -- about a hundred times. With music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, the show's songs are genius, my favorites "Origin of Love," "Wig in a Box," and "Exquisite Corpse." As a stage show, Hedwig utilizes a simple set of exposed brick wall with just Hedwig's band "The Angry Inch" -- Kory Danielson, Nicholas Davio, Eric Engelson, and Zachary Moore. We are in any bar in America listening to Hedwig, an expert story-teller. The show centers on Lanning's voice and ability to interact with the crowd. Lanning's performance was everything it needed to be. Hedwig's story is a mixture of aggression and tenderness and Lanning's voice gives the emotion these beautiful songs call for.

The only other person to have any major singing opportunities (Hedwig is a rock star after all) is Hedwig's lover/it's complicated/husband Yitzhak (played by Lauren Paris), who gives a really killer performance as well. Directed by Kyle Trent, the whole show is impressive, because only a really confident and cool team could pull off this show without being heavy handed.

If you don't have all the song lyrics memorized (like I do), it might get a little confusing -- toward the end the music drowned out the singing in a few places. But, that's rock for you -- it's only good if it gets a little loud and messy. During the show's final song, I got goose bumps. The whole crowd put their hands up. We had a moment.

Go see Hedwig and the Angry Inch if you want your life to be change. Or, if you just want to see a kick-ass show.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 PM and Sundays at 6 PM through August 5 at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont, Chicago IL 60657. General Admissions tickets are $32, students (with ID) and senior (65+) tickets are $20. You can buy tickets at or by calling the box office at 773.975.8150.

photo courtesy of the production

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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