Much more than the sum of its estranged parts, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is both a flamboyant punk rock musical and droll transvestite cabaret full of snide quips about German philosophy, gay sex, multiple genocides and rock stardom.
Hedwig is a musician down on his luck, living in the shadow of his former creative partner Tommy Gnosis, who's selling out arenas while Hedwig is stuck playing venues like the Backyard Ballroom, which is mentioned in the play. Hedwig recounts the events of his bizarre and unique life — growing up in East Germany, coming out of the closet, marrying a U.S. serviceman, and finding himself alone in a trailer in Kansas, where he started making music with his teenaged neighbor Tommy, whom he loves.
John Cameron Mitchell wrote and starred in the original show in New York in 1998 as well as the film version in 2001. The musical relies almost entirely on animating Hedwig's furious punk rock energy without obliterating the vulnerable side of his personal life. In Skin Horse Theater's production, Evan Spigelman turns in a great performance as the strutting and catty Hedwig, the jilted war bride, the jilted band member and bearer of a strangely broken heart. He also sings well, and many of the songs, especially "The Origin of Life" and "Wig in a Box," are infectiously catchy and get the audience to join in. The band Whom Do You Work For provides the music as Hedwig's backing band, The Angry Inch.
The production values have a suitable punk rock feel. Animated projections by Nat Kusinitz, who also plays Yitzhak, were cleverly presented on a school classroom-style overhead projector.
A latter day Rocky Horror Show, it's a really fun and at times absurdly joyous and cathartic musical. But it's also got a lot of smart monologues and asides, and at times some combination of the tight space at the Backyard Ballroom and the pacing almost let some moments get lost in the shuffle. One of the show's crucial exchanges between Hedwig and Tommy needed more of a spotlight. But it's a musical, and the arc of the narrative and tone of the show make up the difference in this very enjoyable production. Tickets $10. — Will Coviello
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
8 p.m. Thu.-Fri.; midnight Sat.
Backyard Ballroom, 3519 St. Claude Ave.; www.skinhorsetheater.org