Bold choices: ‘Hedwig’ breaks mold of musicals

Keaton Kruser and Emmanuel Llorente portray Hedwig in the first musical of the year.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is not your grandmother’s favorite musical.

The rock musical written by John Cameron Mitchell, originally performed off-Broadway in 1998, is a far cry from the other musicals of its time. With a two-person cast and a five-person band, the musical doesn’t have the large production value that other rock musicals like “Rent” or “Rock of Ages” have. Already, “Hedwig” is an odd choice for a college musical.

Hedwig, played alternately by senior Keaton Kruser and freshman Emmanuel Llorente, is a genderqueer singer who began her life in East Germany as “a girlyboy” named Hansel. A botched sex change causes her to take on a female persona and her mother’s name, Hedwig.

Joined on stage by her band and her husband Yitzhak, played by senior Blair Ussary, Hedwig discusses her journey from East Germany to her current performance for the audience, focusing mostly on her love life, the one that got away and her sense of self.

The show runs about 90 minutes and the only large speaking role is Hedwig, essentially making it one long monologue with musical interludes and interruptions by Yitzhak. The musical relies heavily on the interactions between Hedwig and the audience as well as Hedwig’s imitations of the other characters in the story.

I went to see the musical on its opening night, which featured Kruser as the lead. The show was at the intimate Corner Playhouse stage, which was designed to resemble a rock concert venue. Before the performance began, the band (The Angry Inch) played for about 30 minutes, almost as if they were an opening act to Hedwig’s performance.

As a lover of small intimate musicals, I really appreciated this performance of “Hedwig.” The set was very well done and reflected different elements of Hedwig’s life. The vocal performances from Kruser and Ussary blew me away; their belting abilities were both impressive and envy-inducing.

One scene that showed Kruser’s extensive acting range was the interaction between Hedwig and Tommy, her lost love, when she confronts him about her disfigurement and his apparent avoidance of it. The scene is told by Hedwig, requiring Kruser to change his voice and body language to differentiate between the two characters. Kruser’s enthralling portrayal of Hedwig’s final interaction with her love captured the conflict and emotion and gave me chills.

This is a musical that breaks all molds, which is fitting in that Hedwig herself doesn’t fit into any of the molds she’s been trying to fill her whole life. Her journey to self-acceptance is one that can resonate with many college students as long as they’re willing to hear her story with an open mind.

MOVE gives “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” a 4.5 out of 5.

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