Euan Morton stars in first-class ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ at State Theatre


Euan Morton play Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which is at the State Theatre in New Brunswick through May 21.

Euan Morton, the Scottish actor who played Boy George in the musical “Taboo,” may be a bit beefier and deeper voiced than the actors who preceded him as the star of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” But his turn as “the internationally ignored song stylist” and reluctant transsexual more than holds its own.

The national touring company production is currently at The State Theatre in New Brunswick, with tickets a fraction of the cost of a Broadway show. You won’t leave feeling cheated.

This “Hedwig,” adapted from director Michael Mayer’s 2014 Broadway revival, frames the story of the “little slip of a girly boy” from East Berlin as a rock concert, presented only because the theater’s previous tenant (a musical version of the Iraq War movie “The Hurt Locker”) closed at intermission the night before. After getting “down on my knees” to the theater manager (John Cameron Mitchell’s spicy book twinkles with racy double-entendres), Hedwig has been granted a chance to use the “Hurt Locker: The Musical” set before it’s struck and sent off to storage.

And so Hedwig, her much put-upon and doting husband Yitzhak (a transcendent Hannah Corneau in dowdy drag) and the Angry Inch, her punk-rock band of Croatian refugees with unpronounceable names (Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Tim Mislock and Peter Yanowitz, who all performed on Broadway) give us one heck of a show as Hedwig tells us her sad life story.

Bigger, louder, more flamboyant and more in your face than the intimate cabaret revue of “Hedwig’s” first incarnation as an Off-Off-Broadway revue, the touring company skimps on nothing, from Benjamin Pearcy’s charming projected animations to a head-spinning light show and the bombed-out “Hurt Locker” set. My only gripe came from the State Theatre’s sound system, which often rendered the dialogue fuzzy and indistinct. The crowd at the front of the theater frequently laughed at jokes that those of us in the middle and rear didn’t quite catch.

Speaking of jokes, Morton reveals himself to be a gifted comedian, especially when ad-libbing with the audience or quipping acerbic bon mots. The script is updated for each venue, so Morton tossed off one-liners about Easton Avenue and Gov. Christie, and when only one side of the audience laughed at a joke, he joked, “Well, at least East Brunswick got it.” I was lucky enough to see John Cameron Mitchell and Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig, and they both were hilarious; but Morton may be the funniest Hedwig yet.

Dolled up in a bedazzled denim outfit, with a wig that made him look like a cross between ’80s sitcom mom Beverly Goldberg and Cher on steroids, Morton commanded the stage from the moment he made his somewhat klutzy entrance. Harris played up Hedwig’s clunky stage moves as a comedic device, but Morton elevates them to pure slapstick.

And we haven’t event gotten to the music yet. Stephen Trask’s score is the one element of “Hedwig” that hasn’t changed over the years, and it remains a triumphant mix of glammy punk and heart-rending ballads. This is the rare rock musical that actually rocks.

When the young Hansel Schmidt meets a U.S. serviceman in East Berlin who wants to take him home as his wife, a botched sex-change operation leaves the renamed Hedwig with her “Angry Inch,” described in gruesome detail in one of the show’s standout rock numbers. But there’s a softer side to Hedwig, too, captured in moving ballads like “Wig in a Box” and “Wicked Little Town.”

After Hedwig is abandoned by his G.I. husband in a midwestern trailer park, she meets a teenage misfit whom she grooms into the rock star Tommy Gnosis. Tommy winds up betraying Hedwig, stealing all her songs, and on the night that Hedwig and the Angry Inch happen to be at the State Theatre, Tommy Gnosis is headlining “Rutgers Stadium” across the river to a sold-out crowd. Yitzhak, a former transvestite whom Hedwig treats with a mixture of contempt and withering condescension, periodically throws open the stage door at the back of the set so we can hear Tommy’s concert, too, tossing all of Hedwig’s regrets and failures at her like a slap in the face.

But after a stunning onstage meltdown, Hedwig abandons the wigs and costumes and appears to us nearly naked, finding her humanity beneath the glitter and gloss with the stunning ballad “Midnight Radio.” And in the show’s radiant finale, Hedwig gives Yitzhak the one thing he wants more than anything else — the chance to be a beautiful woman again.

When “Hedwig” debuted in 1998, transsexualism was barely discussed and the fate of the play’s protagonist seemed more a cruel twist of fate than a declaration of sexual freedom. But the show has aged well, and today, when LGBTQ rights stand at the forefront of our political discussion, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” reminds us that individuality always trumps conformity, that flamboyance beats fitting in, and that sexual identity is defined by what’s in your heart, not in your genes.

Kudos to the Angry Inch, whose music brings the show to life (they actually tour separately as the band Tits of Clay). New Brunswick has been a rock ‘n’ roll town since the early ’80s, and even with the Court Tavern currently shuttered, it’s still one of New Jersey’s musical hotbeds. Hedwig couldn’t have found a better home.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” continues at the State Theatre through May 21. For information, visit

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