Neil Patrick Harris, who appeared on Broadway three times before being scooped up by “How I Met Your Mother” for nine years, still managed to maintain a regular presence in the theater by hosting the Tony Awards no less than four times.
Now that his long-running sitcom has ended, not only is Harris back onstage, he is tackling one of the most outsized, flamboyant and intense musical theater roles ever created in the first Broadway staging of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s acclaimed hard rock musical premiered Off-Broadway in 1998 with Mitchell playing Hedwig. It was then made into a 2001 film starring and directed by Mitchell.
The musical, structured as a rock concert, allows Hedwig, a transgender glam diva, to narrate her life story in between all the sophisticated but highly catchy songs. She is joined by her band and new husband Yitzhak (the terrific Lena Hall).
Hedwig (formerly Hansel) grew up in East Germany and eventually underwent a botched sex change operation at the behest of her ex-husband. Alone in the U.S., Hedwig starts writing songs with a teenage boy who eventually deserts deserts her and becomes a major star by using their songs, never acknowledging her co-authorship.
Whereas the original production was set around a dingy ballroom and used little scenery, the Broadway revival, directed by Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”), acknowledges that it is taking place in a Broadway theater in the present day. The elaborate set is supposedly left over from the recently shuttered “Hurt Locker: The Musical.”
While no one can doubt Harris’ fierce theatricality, strong voice and expert handling of the comedy aspects, his Hedwig has yet to come together as a fully-developed, vulnerable character. But given the role’s extreme complexity and grueling physical demands, that’s more than understandable. Chances are that his performance will improve as the run continues.
The new setting affects the show’s credibility. Would a strange, struggling performer really be invited to perform on a Broadway stage? But as it is, this remains a wildly enjoyable production of one of the most exciting and inventive rock musicals of all time.
If you go: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” plays an open run at the Belasco Theatre. 111 W. 44th St., telecharge.com.