By Donna Dodson
New York, NY – Currently playing on Broadway at the Belasco Theater in New York City, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has been nominated for 8 Tony awards — so far. This rock musical is centered around Hedwig, the transgendered lead singer in a fictional rock and roll band from East Germany. The production, written and performed by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, first appeared off Broadway in 1998.
One of the over arching themes of Hedwig is the story of platonic love, as it was explained to Hedwig (aka Hansel) when he was a little boy. In 2001, John Cameron Mitchell starred in the movie version that continued the theme of love, search for self and gay/queer gender roles and identity politics as it plays out in Hedwig’s search for rock stardom.
The current Broadway production, featuring Neil Patrick Harris in the lead role, resurrects the story in a different era. In 2014, the resonance is perhaps even greater given the current climate of transgender advocacy, acceptance and awareness. Harris does a great job of making the story his own.
I interpreted the story as a metaphor of art and artists — perhaps artists are the only ones who can experience total love, given that their creations are intellectual and not human therefore love is not gendered.
I never saw the 1998 theater production, and I was nervous that the live performance would not live up to my expectations. I recall the incredible hype around the live production and the movie, yet I did not see the film until 2013 (15 years after its debut on stage, and over a decade after it was released on DVD). The impact on me was profound.
I got the soundtrack on CD, looked up the lyrics online and was not totally surprised that underneath the fluffy pop rock musical was an intellectually rigorous, classical philosophical treatise. The resonance for me was profound. I was transported back to being 20 again, and reminded of the agony in my soul at that age.
Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall are not only the actors who delivered stellar performances. Band members Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Tim Mislock and Peter Yanowitz brought the audience to a standing ovation at the end of the show. Our Sunday matinee audience was totally rocking along to everything that was happening on stage. All I can say is how glad I am that we had standing room only seats, so we could dance and sing along the whole time.
Hedwig, may you rock on and on and on…
(“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is currently at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street (between Broadway and 6th Avenue), New York City; shows are presently scheduled through August 17. For more information, visit hedwigbroadway.com or call (800) 432-7250.)