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REVIEW: Size and Other Problems: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Ordway)

Euan Morton (front center), Hannah Corneau and Tits of Clay in the national tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, now playing at the Ordway, has a bit of a size problem. Yes, that sounds a bit insensitive when discussing a protagonist whose titular beef involves something extra left over down there. However, sensitivity is the heart of the issue: the Ordway’s Music Theater is simply too large for the production delivered on opening night.

This version of Hedwig descends from the Broadway production that starred Neal Patrick Harris, leveraging the star’s outsized personality and fame to scale it up from Off Broadway to On. It also added some wildly entertaining elements, like the fake Hurt Locker: The Musical programs scattered in the seating (make sure to grab one for a lot of post-show laughs). An important factor to consider, though, is that the Broadway production played at the Belasco Theatre – a relatively small Broadway house with only 1,016 seats. The remount may have scaled well that far, but ended up lost at sea in St. Paul. Many of what were supposed to be big production numbers just did not have a visual punch appropriate to the larger stage.

Euan Morton (front center) as Hedwig, Hannah Corneau as Yitzhak, and Tits of Clay. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Some of these problems seemed to be technical in nature. Blinding light flashes aside, the lighting effects weren’t nearly as elaborate as the set suggested, and several seemed incorrectly setup. The big finale introduced a pair of giant twirling disco balls high up above the audience…without so much as a visible play of light coming from them. Only after the curtain call could any faint reflections be seen on the ceiling – the lights intended for them only barely grazing their edge. Whoops.

One of the best visual elements in the Hedwig tour is an animated sequence during “The Origin of Love”. This piece felt right-sized, with something extra and high-budget element filling the space in a special way. (This was also the most sensitively delivered and moving number in the show, with a goosebump-inducing delivery by Euan Morton as Hedwig.) More of these animations would have been welcome. Many of the other numbers just lacked visual oomph on opening night – an impression also relayed by theatregoers who saw later performers. The car prop that occupied centerstage started out as an impressive element at the show’s opening, but it’s later suspension lacked any real sense of gravitas.

Dramatically, Morton is fun to watch and delivers some slick vocals, as does Hannah Corneau as Yitzhak. For as hard as the musicians rocked, though, more of a rock concert vibe was needed. Clearer vocals would’ve helped, too – the vocals were generally muddy in the mix.

Size isn’t everything, but matching the show elements to the space is a good start.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays through Feb. 19 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.

Basil Considine