The tale of genderqueer East German singer Hedwig and his “angry inch”—the character was mutilated in a botched gender-reassignment surgery—first made waves off-Broadway in 1998, before becoming a well-reviewed cult-favorite film in 2001. In 2014, the show moved to Broadway, where it won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and lead acting Tony Awards for its stars, Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall.
Now the musical—with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask and book by John Cameron Mitchell—is making waves in Palm Springs, compliments of Desert Rose Playhouse’s fantastic production.
In case you’re unfamiliar: The story centers around Hedwig Robinson, who grew up with an emotionally distant mother. When her American-soldier father walks out, Hedwig finds comfort in rock music. She believes that angry gods separated her from her “other half,” and she decides she must travel to the West to find that missing piece.
She falls in love with Luther, an American soldier who wants her to dress in drag. Once they decide to marry and head West, Hedwig’s mother finds a doctor to perform the aforementioned gender-reassignment surgery.
Not long after the couple moves to Kansas, Luther leaves Hedwig for a man. Hedwig decides to create a more feminine identity and forms a rock band she calls The Angry Inch. She begins a relationship with Tommy Speck, with whom she collaborates on songs—but he is repelled by the fact that she’s not biologically female, and heads off to become a successful rock ’n’ roll star … thanks to songs Hedwig wrote.
As Hedwig tells the audience her story, she’s aided by her backup singer and former drag-queen husband, Yitzhak. Their relationship is quite toxic, and Hedwig verbally abuses him throughout the evening. Things get quite intense before it all comes to a head.
The two leads here are played by Nicholas Sloan (Hedwig) and his real-life wife, Jamie Leigh Walker (Yitzhak)—and they’re both terrific. They each have strong vocal pipes and impressive acting skills. The character of Hedwig is a heavy load to carry, and Sloan knocks it out of the park. One quibble: It was a bit difficult to understand some of Sloan’s dialogue and song lyrics at times, due to his German accent and mic technique.
Walker is fantastic as the long-suffering Yitzhak, who clearly chafes at being stuck in the background. Walker’s brief rendition of “I Will Always Love You” is exquisite.
Chuck Yates, formerly the founding artistic director at the late, lamented Coyote StageWorks, does a masterful job here. It’s great to see his name in a local theater program again—and I hope he returns to direct at Desert Rose in the future.
The onstage band is made up of Krystofer Do, Miguel Arballo, Juan Espino and Sean McCune, with musical direction by Constance Gordy. They are, in a word, excellent. The set, lighting, costumes, makeup and wigs are all spot-on.
The result of all these performers’ hard work is a powerful and entertaining show. They received a lengthy standing ovation on opening night.
Desert Rose Playhouse and its artistic director, Robbie Wayne, are known for putting on edgy, high-quality productions that push the envelope—and Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about as edgy as it gets. As long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, you’ll have a fabulous time.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 21, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 16. Tickets are $34-$37; high-top tables (for four) or VIP couches (for two or three) are $175. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required for entry. For tickets or more information, visit desertroseplayhouse.org.