Since I was already staying overnight in New York for the Jack White concert, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity for my friend Amanda and I to see another Broadway show. We had been discussing going to see something during the holidays, but scheduling conflicts simply prevented that from panning out. I hadn’t seen a show in New York since we saw Once back in 2012; I’ve seen plenty of touring productions since then, but there’s truly nothing like seeing a show on Broadway. After much discussion and our combined inability to figure out the Broadway Week website that boasted two for one tickets, we settled on Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
I was familiar with Hedwig from the film adaption back in 2001 and had wanted to see the show when either Neil Patrick Harris or Michael C. Hall played the titular role (the former won the Tony in 2014 for his performance). But just because we weren’t seeing any big name celebrities didn’t mean that we weren’t getting something kind of awesome – we were going to see John Cameron Mitchell, who was reprising the role that he created. Mitchell wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch and directed and starred in the film adaptation. He may not be a household name (at least in most households), but there’s probably no one out there that knows the role better or who loves it more.
I hadn’t seen the Hedwig and the Angry Inch movie since it came out, so I wasn’t sure how much of the play that I was going to remember. I knew the obvious fact – Hedwig was a transgender frontperson for a band – but I was a little fuzzy on the details of the narrative. I was surprised when we received our playbill that Hedwig is basically a one-man show; there is a band that doesn’t speak and the only other on stage character is Yitzhak (Lena Hall), who is not central to the action most of the time. This show lives and dies on Hedwig and the man that portrays him shoulders almost all the responsibility for the show.
And man, did John Cameron Mitchell knock it out of the park. I was totally blown away by his performance; it was bawdy and funny and sad and heartbreaking – often all at the same time. Mitchell was a revelation; you couldn’t take your eyes off Hedwig even if you wanted to. The songs are wonderful and catchy – I think I’ve had “Sugar Daddy” running through my head nonstop since the performance – and run the emotional gamut. The show is an economical 100 minutes, but it’s filled with enough laughter and powerhouse moments that Hedwig doesn’t feel rushed or undeveloped. I was disappointed that all the fun was over when the show came to an end.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch tells the story of Hedwig (né Hansel), a transgender singer that was the recipient of a botched sex change operation. The premise of the show is that the audience is attending one of Hedwig’s performances, which have taken on some notoriety after a scandal involving rock star Tommy Gnosis, with whom Hedwig has some history. Hedwig is performing her show in the shadow of Tommy’s sold out concert. Hedwig tells the story of her life, from German to the United Stated, and is accompanied by her husband Yizhak, a former drag queen who is scorned and mistreated by Hedwig. Hedwig has never achieved the success and fame that she’s craved and as the show progresses she moves closer and closer to a breakdown.
The majority of the show is just a lot of fun; Hedwig is not a show for children, as it is full of a lot of sexual innuendo and not-so-innuendo. One of the funniest moments of the night is when Hedwig comes out into the audience and treats some people to some “extra special” attention. There are jokes galore and I’m sure that John Cameron Mitchell dropped a few ad-libs in there as well. Perhaps the only show that I’ve laughed harder at is Book of Mormon. It’s mostly not a serious show, which is why it is a little surprising that the emotional moments land as well as they do. One minute, you are laughing at Hedwig’s exploits and the next you are emotionally invested in the very hard life that she’s had. Through the jokes, there is some real character work being done so that you care about Hedwig and what happens to her. There is also a undercurrent of anger and bitterness to some of the numbers, not unwarranted after what Hedwig has endured. Hedwig may seem like a pretty straightforward story, but there are many facets to the main character that reveal themselves at different points in the musical and that are expertly executed by Mitchell. Lena Hall doesn’t have a ton to do for the majority of the show, but when she gets her moment to shine she most certainly grabs it with both hands and won’t let go. The patience pays off with a show-stopping performance.
When Hedwig and the Angry Inch first debuted nearly fourteen years ago off-Broadway, I’m sure it raised plenty of eyebrows; it was a different time when a show like Hedwig was likely to become a cult hit but not a mainstream sensation. A lot has changed in how we think about sexuality and gender in the time since and while I’m sure that there are people that are still uncomfortable with the topic of the show, it was refreshing to look around the theater and see such a diverse audience – all of who were loving every minute of it, with the exception of the guy sitting next to me. He didn’t clap once during the show and I only heard him laugh a handful of times, which makes me question his pulse and his sanity. If you don’t walk out of the show with a big old smile on your face and with renewed electricity in your soul, I don’t know what can be done for you.
We couldn’t stop talking about the show as we filed out of the theater into the bitter cold of New York; we both loved it so much and we so glad that we had chosen that musical to see. I actually haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it and am most likely going to re-watch the movie some point soon just to spend a little more time in Hedwig’s world. It sounds like I may have more opportunity to do so; there are currently discussions for a Hedwig sequel – possibly a miniseries – which I am all in favor of happening. Hedwig is just a magically musical that I am so glad that I got to experience. It may not dethrone Book of Mormon as my favorite musical, but it came damn close. That should make Hedwig very happy.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is currently on Broadway; John Cameron Mitchell’s run will end in March.