What you can say about Euan Morton in the touring company of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at the Kennedy Center is this: He is every inch a Hedwig. Morton, who was Tony-nominated in 2004 for playing Boy George in “Taboo,” is an impish, sarcastic cutup with a great set of pop-rock pipes, and he sings the hot pants off songwriter Stephen Trask’s punk raves and dusky ballads.
The scruffy concert-style show itself seems a bit out of place in a Broadway-scale venue like the Eisenhower, though, even with a winking script tweak by “Hedwig” writer and original star John Cameron Mitchell that has Hedwig playing on the remains of a failed new musical version of “The Hurt Locker.” (That explains the ruined car in the middle of the set.) Hedwig’s personable, mercurial act is as botched as the sex-change operation that left the East Berlin-born lad in a gender netherworld. On a big stage — where the 1998 show finally made it in 2014 with Neil Patrick Harris headlining on Broadway — the slow parts of Hedwig’s awkward mood swings and narration can seem distant and ultra slow.
Freshening the cocktail, Morton frequently gooses things with topical and local gags.
“It all went down on the newly annoying H Street corridor,” Morton’s German-inflected Hedwig says at one point, introducing her failed relationship with Tommy Gnosis (whose concert, we are told, is taking place on the Mall). Hedwig strikes fear into the heart of the gloomy Yitzhak (an excellent Hannah Corneau), her emcee/backup vocalist/boyfriend, by remarking that immigration enforcement is in the house. A wisecrack follows about how particularly resonant that prank is here and now.
“Hedwig” was ahead of its time almost two decades ago, using political and sexual borders to explore fractured psyches and pathways to healing. It still feels fresh even next to Taylor Mac’s searing comic “Hir” at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, about a family riven by power/gender divisions and with its youngest member transitioning from female to male. “Hedwig” remains angry, wryly self-aware, and disarmingly funny.
It’s puckishly subversive, another area where Morton excels. He is utterly comfortable in Hedwig’s skin, whether preening in glam wigs and short skirts or, at his most daring, wading into the audience for naughty, naughty in-your-face interactions ripe for strip clubs. Hedwig is vulgar enough to spit on stage (and beyond), but charming enough to draw laughs as Morton banters with the front rows.
The songs, though, are what catapulted “Hedwig” to cult status the 2001 film that’s well worth a look. Director Michael Mayer and lighting designer Kevin Adams overdo the blinding strobes and retina-wrecking explosive effects for Trask’s thrashers, and the lyrics can be a blur (whether because of the sound design or the sometimes furious delivery is hard to say). But the band has a gritty edge, and Morton’s a flat-out great singer. He struts through the defiant opener, “Tear Me Down,” snarls and growls through the punk “Angry Inch,” and hauntingly croons the melancholy “Wicked Little Town.”
The range is impressively masculine-feminine, and the assured style is pure pop. As Morton plays this bundle of warring impulses, the ego is tarnished but the heart is resilient, and the vocals are sterling.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch Book by John Cameron Mitchell, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. Set design, Julian Crouch; projections, Benjamin Pearcy; animation, Phosphene/John Bair; costumes, Arianne Phillips; wigs and makeup, Mike Potter; sound designer, Tim O’Heir. About an hour and 50 minutes. No intermission. Through July 2 at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. Tickets $59-$159. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.