Break A Heel! Darren Criss Takes On Hedwig And The Angry Inch

Break A Heel! Darren Criss Takes On Hedwig And The Angry Inch
Credit: Hedwig and the Angry Inch/Facebook

Tonight (April 29), Darren Criss will take to the stage for his opening night as lead in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It is the day all fans of the actor have been waiting for since it was first announced back in February that he would be stepping into the heels of Hedwig. Many are travelling from across the world during his three month turn to watch as he takes on one of the toughest roles in musical theatre.

Hedwig and The Angry Inch, with book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, was first given life by David Binder as an off-off Broadway production. From there, under direction of Peter Askin, it ran for two years from February 1998 at Jane Street Theatre. Critics and audiences alike very quickly came to love the show, and it won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, a 1998 New York Magazine Award and Entertainment Weekly’s “Soundtrack of the Year” Award. Time Magazine named Hedwig the Top Musical of 1998.

A successful 2001 film version directed by and starring Mitchell, saw him winning another slew of awards, including Best New Director from the National Board of Review, the Gotham Awards, and the LA Critics Society.

The show made its Broadway debut in 2014, starring Neil Patrick Harris in the central role. He was followed by Andrew Rannells, Michael C Hall and then Mitchell himself, who has just finished a very successful run, and now Darren Criss takes over.

For those not familiar with the plot; Hedwig starts out life as a boy named Hansel, living in East Berlin. The wall is in place, dividing the city, and Hansel is desperate to escape. He meets a US Army soldier named Luther, who can give Hansel this chance. He assumes his mother’s identity and undergoes a sex change as the authorities will check that he is a woman. The operation goes horrifically wrong.

Hedwig, as she is now known, is soon abandoned in a US trailer park by Luther, and she must make her own way in life. She meets a young man by the name of Tommy, and the rest unfolds from there (no spoilers from me!).

Hedwig herself is a very complex character indeed, and it will take a certain level of skill to be able to effectively portray all her conflicting emotion. The victim of a forced and then botched sex change operation, on the surface Hedwig seems both angry and yet also exuberant almost to the point of mania at times. Appearances can be deceptive, however, and under the surface Hedwig is angry, hurt and desperate to be loved. Because of everything that has happened throughout her life, she is sometimes cruel, malicious and pushes people away.

All these complexities of character make Hedwig a hard role to pin down, and each actor will find her voice in his own way. Criss always comes across as an immensely positive person and, given his age too, it will be interesting to see how he plays her, whether it be more bitter and angry or more as a woman who masks her vulnerabilities.

It will also be interesting to see that angsty, negative side of Criss coming through, as Blaine on Glee was on occasion both melancholy and joyous but rarely angry or confrontational. Again, in How To Succeed, he played a mainly upbeat character so it will be a real treat to see Criss bring such a completely different character to the stage.

Certainly the creative team behind Hedwig are equally as excited as his fans to see him take on the role. “The first time I saw Darren I knew he was a game changer,” Trask said in a statement. “He’s that good. Then, when we hung out it was like we were old friends. I’m happy that Hedwig can be Darren’s next stop on his way to world domination.”

Mitchell added: “I LOVED him in How to Succeed. His stage presence is electrifying, his rock and roll credentials and comic timing impeccable and I’m thrilled to be working with him to create a brand-new Hedwig!”

As for Criss himself, well he admits that he has always loved the show and speaking to, he revealed he has coveted the role for a while. “This didn’t just come out of thin air,” he explained. “I’ve been chasing this for a long time.”

Stepping into the shoes of a lead Broadway role is always tough, but stepping into the gold, glittery heels of Hedwig, and following on from the man who originated the character we know and love? There’s no doubting Criss has an incredibly tough act to follow.

How wonderful then, that he has such support from cast and crew both past and present, with Stephen Trask admitting he’s been waiting over a year for Criss to take to the stage. Wherever he goes from here, this role will stay with Criss for a lifetime. While he will always be Blaine to many, he will now also be Hedwig not only to his existing fans but also a whole new legion of people who will sit up and take notice of this new Berlin Wall. I am certain this will be a fantastic show and here at 4YE we really wish him all the luck in the world. I’ve had the privilege of watching Criss sing live twice now and his vocals are just sensational. He has an amazing stage presence just as himself, so add in the costume, wig, makeup and heels and wow, just wow. No one will tear him down.

Break A Heel! Darren Criss Takes On Hedwig And The Angry Inch

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