Park, who appears in Netflix’s live-action “Cowboy Bebop” adaptation and will star in the streaming service’s forthcoming take on Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” has strutted in Hedwig’s stilettos before: From 2016 to 2017, the 26-year-old actor traveled with the Broadway revival’s national tour on standby. More recently, Olney audiences will remember Park (who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns) from their Helen Hayes Award-winning turn as the Emcee in the theater’s 2019 staging of “Cabaret.”
Those worlds have collided here under the helm of Johanna McKeon, the associate director of the 2014 Broadway revival. Scenic designer Jacob A. Climer adorns the rustic space with Christmas lights, Virgin Mary figurines and a flickering menorah for a subversive holiday-season production that deftly toes the line between grunge and glamour. All the while, Park slips effortlessly into Hedwig’s wry narcissism and suppressed anxieties on a genderqueer journey of love, loss and self-acceptance.
With music and lyrics by Stephen Trask and a book by John Cameron Mitchell, “Hedwig” bills itself as a one-night-only punk extravaganza. Its protagonist, an East German-born singer-songwriter who underwent a botched sex-reassignment surgery, is performing at a venue down the road from the more successful tour of her rock-star former lover, Tommy Gnosis.
Park thrashes through the “Hedwig” songbook with aplomb; high points include the headbanger “Angry Inch,” the aching anthem “Wicked Little Town” and “Wig in a Box,” a tour-de-force tune of self-discovery. Musicians Manny Arciniega, Jaime Ibacache, Jason Wilson and Christopher Youstra gamely make up the Angry Inch, Hedwig’s backing band. And Chani Wereley imbues Yitzhak, Hedwig’s gaslighted husband, with deadpan humor and a versatile voice.
Both Climer’s set and his shimmering costumes are ripe for hidden reveals, combining with Mike Potter’s wigs and makeup to layer the show in artifice. Max Doolittle’s flashy lighting and Patrick W. Lord’s projections — memorably featuring anarchist imagery on “Tear Me Down” and pop-up-book illustrations on “The Origin of Love” — further fuel the high-octane spectacle.
But it is Park’s star power that illuminates “Hedwig” anew, as the performer takes Mitchell’s metatheatrical, double entendre-laden book and punches it up with countless ad-libs and updates. Uber, HBO Max and Darren Criss, a previous “Hedwig” star, get name-dropped as certain quips modernize the material. There’s also an homage to Olney’s “Beauty and the Beast” production next door as other riffs play off the setting. And some gags nimbly do both (i.e., a riotous reference to Hedwig’s “Olney Fans” page). The pandemic doesn’t go unaddressed, either, thanks to a clever, covid-safe reinvention of “Wig in a Box’s” traditional singalong segment.
Considering the show suggests the human soul is split in two, forever yearning to find its other half, one can’t help but witness the uncanny fusion of actor and role and ask where Hedwig ends and Park begins. With a performer and character so clearly in tune, it’s no wonder Hedwig’s forlorn voice still pierces with poignancy.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, book by John Cameron Mitchell. Directed by Johanna McKeon. Music direction, Christopher Youstra; scenic design and costumes, Jacob A. Climer; lighting, Max Doolittle; projections, Patrick W. Lord; wigs and makeup, Mike Potter; sound, Matt Rowe; choreography, Ani Taj. Through Jan. 2 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Md. About 105 minutes. $59-$85. olneytheatre.org.