Former drag queen Yitzhak comes up to the mic, clears his throat and announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not … Hedwig.” Hedwig descends from the ceiling in a blaze of golden locks and leggy fishnets, landing on the stage with a walk unique to the actor.
The show has been open for a year and a half featuring a rotating cast. Neil Patrick Harris originated the role in this Broadway revival, followed by Andrew Rannells and Michael C. Hall. Next to don the wig was John Cameron Mitchell and then Darren Criss. Closing out the run for the show’s final seven weeks is actor Taye Diggs.
Each Hedwig brought new life to the character. Neil Patrick Harris brought a gritty glitz to the role. The way he kicked and jumped around the Belasco stage was shocking for its sheer physical stamina. Harris’ execution of the choreography in numbers like “Sugar Daddy” was crisp and deliciously sinful, but it also brought added complexity to the more poignant songs like “Hedwig’s Lament.” His high-caliber vocal skills were immortalized on the Original Broadway Cast soundtrack, yet his acting was slightly subpar. Harris seemed to play everything on the surface, like a Barbie doll version of a complex human.
Andrew Rannells, the next Hedwig, was a little one-note rocking all of the high-energy anthems like “Tear Me Down” but falling a little flat with the stripped-down emotional songs like “Wicked Little Town.” He didn’t seem to have the emotional maturity the role requires, and it often felt forced and superficial. Rannells’ voice wasn’t stylistically matched to this score. Next, at 44 years old, Hall had the acting chops and maturity to pull off the emotional range, as well as the physical stamina to control the stage and jump around in the frenzied choreography. Hall’s Hedwig wasn’t as pleasant to look at or listen to, which served to further character development and feel more real. He really leaned into the rejection and dejection the character faces.
It’s difficult to compare John Cameron Mitchell to the other Hedwigs because he is so embedded in the evolution of the character. For instance, he hurt his knee early on in his run and had to perform in a full leg brace, but the producers revamped the script and choreography to incorporate the injury in the plot. It added a deeper level of subjugation and humility to the relationship between Yitzhak and Hedwig. Mitchell made up for any missing physical energy with his high intellect and subtle, slow-burning humor.
Darren Criss was the youngest Hedwig at 28, and it was unclear whether or not he could handle the chops of this show. Though a little callous with some of the subtler jokes, he had a convincing and moving grasp of the variety of deep feelings. He also brought back a much needed energy and physicality to the pulsing core of the show.
Most recently, Taye Diggs put on the wig as Hedwig. Diggs is the first black Hedwig, and with his deft handle on puns and witticisms, he is unapologetic and eager to make the audience uncomfortable in just the right way. The choreography didn’t sit very well on him -and his vocals weren’t quite up to snuff, but that only helped personify this broken yet defiant “slip of a girly boy.” Diggs will be the last to play Hedwig on Broadway. Diggs and Hall captured the personal characterization of Hedwig best, but Criss had the best physicality, sharing the unofficial title of best vocals with Harris. Taking all these factors into consideration, one could argue that Hall was the best Hedwig to take the stage.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” finishes its run on Sept. 13 at the Belasco Theatre, starring Taye Diggs.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 8 print edition. Email Leah Miller at [email protected]