The public library system here in Cleveland is fantastic, with a great many new cast recordings at my disposal between my library’s well curated stock and what I can find through inter-library loan. Every few weeks I drop off a collection of CDs and pick up a new one. The Cast Recording Response contains my thoughts on my latest returns.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2014 Broadway Cast Recording*)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rare sort of musical that premiered in a commercial Off-Broadway production that went on to have multiple regional/international productions (many of which got cast recordings) and a screen adaptation without benefit of a Broadway transfer. Little Shop of Horrors and The Fantastiks are the only other members of this club that come to mind. But if Hedwig‘s success was always more “niche” or “cult” than mainstream, the new Broadway production proves that Hedwig has broad appeal–it has been playing to capacity houses, had a Beyonce-level award haul, and recouped its investment in a matter of months. I can’t attest to the success of the production as a whole (though many people I greatly expect all agree that it’s nearly flawless), but I can say that it has received a wonderful cast recording.
As Hedwig, Neil Patrick Harris sounds surprisingly similar to its creator John Cameron Mitchell. (Though upon further reflection this is perhaps not such a shock–the two would probably be considered very similar in type had their careers had similar origins and paths. I can easily imagine Harris as Dickon in The Secret Garden or Mitchell as the Balladeer in Assassins.) Harris’ voice is a bit thinner/reedier than Mitchell’s, but for the most part, Harris sounds great and disappears into the role. I actually find him more convincing in the more hard-edged rock numbers than he is in the broader comedy of “Wig in a Box” or the more earnest “Wicked Little Town”. Because of the nature of her role, it’s hard to get a sense of Lena Hall’s Tony-winning performance on this recording. But she does get one fun opportunity not afforded previous Yitzhaks: “When Love Explodes“, a song from the hypothetical Hurt Locker: the Musical, whose demise presents the opportunity for Hedwig to perform on Broadway. (Audiences of the Broadway Hedwig are treated to a faux-Playbill for this fictitious show!)
The orchestration/mixing of the Broadway band sounds fuller and richer than it’s original downtown counterpart. It doesn’t come off sounding cheesy or sanitized, though I might describe it as “cleaner”, in that I can more clearly hear the individual instruments and whatnot. “Sugar Daddy” is the only song that got a somewhat drastically different musical treatment, losing it’s original country twang (and being better for it).
In an interview with buzzfeed (ugh, I know) Stephen Trask has said of this recording: “The intent was to feel as close as possible to what the show sounded like live,…We really wanted to capture what makes this show special, and what makes this version of these songs my favorite.” While I don’t think this will replace JCM on the OOBCR for long-time fans of the piece, I do imagine there is a younger generation for whom this will be the definitive Hedwig, and it does a nice job of preserving this, perhaps unexpected, phase in Hedwig’s history.
Hawks Test Report Card: I hope one of the side effects of this production/recording is that it’s wholesome star and clearer sound will enable more conservative listeners (the type who might say the original version “was just noise”) to appreciate how truly excellent Stephen Trask’s work is. It;s truly one of the strongest scores of its decade, with no weak spots and many bona fide classics: “Tear Me Down”, “Origin of Love”, “Wig in a Box”, and the truly wonderful “Wicked Little Town” (which works just as well in completely different musical contexts).
*This album is technically called the “Original Broadway Cast Recording”, but I feel that is misleading because it is not the Original Cast…it is just the first cast to play Broadway. Now get off my lawn.