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Inch by inch: Decades later, 'Hedwig' has become a stage classic

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Hedwig doesn’t exactly present herself as a likely favorite for theater companies across the country. In fact, it’s intrinsic to the show’s premise that she’s not much of a draw. Spitting on the audience and flipping them off, Hedwig’s barely managing to hold the show and herself together. She introduces a bracing tale of a life disrupted, with clinical details that may astonish unsuspecting theatergoers.

Yet John Cameron Mitchell’s 1998 play has become a standard of American musical theater. Fueled by the success of Mitchell’s 2001 movie and a Tony-winning 2014 Broadway production, Hedwig has become as common as Annie... or at least that’s how it feels in the Twin Cities, where Theatre Latté Da’s new take is one of at least three different productions to land since 2017.

Directed by Annie Enneking and Peter Rothstein, Latté Da’s splashy production offers ample evidence of why this potentially thorny material has worked so well in so many different settings over so many years. As Hedwig herself acknowledges with her “punk gestures,” she reads as a rock star, and we’re used to such stars running hot and cold. Her cabaret schtick works on its own terms, and her constant costume changes keep audiences’ eyes popping.

Most critically, Hedwig’s story comes to a dramatic resolution that’s satisfying without being overdetermined. Her journey remains open-ended, and while Mitchell has acknowledged he wouldn’t write the same show again today, in many ways Angry Inch doesn’t feel as dated as its contemporary Rent.

To make Hedwig at home, scenic designer Michael Hoover has turned the Ritz Theater into a trailer park, with Hedwig’s mobile dressing room as the only tenant. Emerging in costume designer Alice Frederickson’s party-dress version of a Canadian tuxedo, Hedwig is very Midwestern, as East German émigrés go.

Tyler Michaels King stars as a Hedwig who’s decidedly more Broadway than Bowery as he belts Stephen Trask’s songs. With his powerful pipes, supreme physical confidence, and ability to project emotional openness without reading as naive, King is a perfect fit for this polished production. The play runs on the emotional undercurrent of Hedwig’s relationship with her harried husband, Yitzhak, and in that role a winning Jay Owen Eisenberg immediately has our hearts.

The four-piece onstage band, led by music director Jason Hansen and featuring bona-fide rock stars like bassist Mayda Miller, provides a suitably cacophonous experience; it would hardly be Hedwig if they weren’t handing out earplugs at the door.

There’s no one Hedwig for everyone, but Latté Da has created an accessible and highly theatrical production that celebrates the power of storytelling and the catharsis of turning it up to 11.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
The Ritz Theater
345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
612-339-3003; through May 5