The Washington Post

‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ measures up

- BY THOMAS FLOYD

As a souped-up star vehicle, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” goes only as far as the well-manicured hands on the wheel. So it’s quite a coup for Olney Theatre Center that Mason Alexander Park is taking a detour from their Hollywood ascent to grace the venue with velvety vocals, incisive improvisat­ions and glam-rock radiance.

Park, who appears in Netflix’s liveaction “Cowboy Bebop” adaptation and will star in the streaming service’s forthcomin­g take on Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” has strutted in Hedwig’s stilettos before: From 2016 to 2017, the 26-year-old actor traveled with the Broadway revival’s national tour on standby. More recently, Olney audiences will remember Park (who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns) from their Helen Hayes Award-winning turn as the Emcee in the theater’s 2019 staging of “Cabaret.”

Those worlds have collided here under the helm of Johanna Mckeon, the associate director of the 2014 Broadway revival. Scenic designer

Jacob A. Climer adorns the rustic space with Christmas lights, Virgin Mary figurines and a flickering menorah for a subversive holiday-season production that deftly toes the line between grunge and glamour. All the while, Park slips effortless­ly into Hedwig’s wry narcissism and suppressed anxieties on a genderquee­r journey of love, loss and self-acceptance.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Trask and a book by John Cameron Mitchell, “Hedwig” bills itself as a one-night-only punk extravagan­za. Its protagonis­t, an East German-born singer-songwriter who underwent a botched sex-reassignme­nt surgery, is performing at a venue down the road from the more successful tour of her rock-star former lover, Tommy Gnosis.

Park thrashes through the “Hedwig” songbook with aplomb; high points include the headbanger “Angry Inch,” the aching anthem “Wicked Little Town” and “Wig in a Box,” a tour-de-force tune of self-discovery. Musicians Manny Arciniega, Jaime Ibacache, Jason Wilson and Christophe­r Youstra gamely make up the Angry Inch, Hedwig’s backing band. And Chani Wereley imbues Yitzhak, Hedwig’s gaslighted husband, with deadpan humor and a versatile voice.

Both Climer’s set and his shimmering costumes are ripe for hidden reveals, combining with Mike Potter’s wigs and makeup to layer the show in artifice. Max Doolittle’s flashy lighting and Patrick W. Lord’s projection­s — memorably featuring anarchist imagery on “Tear Me Down” and pop-up-book illustrati­ons on “The Origin of Love” — further fuel the high-octane spectacle.

But it is Park’s star power that illuminate­s “Hedwig” anew, as the performer takes Mitchell’s metatheatr­ical, double entendrela­den book and punches it up with countless ad-libs and updates. Uber, HBO Max and Darren Criss, a previous “Hedwig” star, get name-dropped as certain quips modernize the material. There’s also an homage to Olney’s “Beauty and the Beast” production next door as other riffs play off the setting. And some gags nimbly do both (i.e., a riotous reference to Hedwig’s “Olney Fans” page). The pandemic doesn’t go unaddresse­d, either, thanks to a clever, covid-safe reinventio­n of “Wig in a Box’s” traditiona­l singalong segment.

Considerin­g the show suggests the human soul is split in two, forever yearning to find its other half, one can’t help but witness the uncanny fusion of actor and role and ask where Hedwig ends and Park begins. With a performer and character so clearly in tune, it’s no wonder Hedwig’s forlorn voice still pierces with poignancy.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, book by John Cameron Mitchell. Directed by Johanna Mckeon. Music direction, Christophe­r Youstra; scenic design and costumes, Jacob A. Climer; lighting, Max Doolittle; projection­s, Patrick W. Lord; wigs and makeup, Mike Potter; sound, Matt Rowe; choreograp­hy, Ani Taj. Through Jan. 2 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 OlneySandy Spring Rd., Olney, Md. About 105 minutes. $59-$85. olneytheat­re.org.

 ?? STAN BAROUH/OLNEY THEATRE ?? Mason Alexander Park, who appears in Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop,” stars in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Olney Theatre Center.
STAN BAROUH/OLNEY THEATRE Mason Alexander Park, who appears in Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop,” stars in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Olney Theatre Center.

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