Hedwig and the Angry Inch (musical)
|Hedwig and the Angry Inch|
Original Off-Broadway Playbill
|Book||John Cameron Mitchell|
1999 Los Angeles
2001 movie version
2005 South Korea
2011 Czech Republic
Outer Critics Circle Award
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical about a fictional rock and roll band fronted by an East German transgender singer. The text is by John Cameron Mitchell, and the music and lyrics are by Stephen Trask. The musical premiered in 1998 and has been performed throughout the world in hundreds of stage productions.
The story draws on Mitchell's life as the son of a U.S. Army Major General who once commanded the U.S. sector of occupied West Berlin. The character of Hedwig was originally inspired by a German divorced U.S. Army wife who was a Mitchell family babysitter and moonlighted as a prostitute at her Junction City, Kansas trailer park home. The music is steeped in the androgynous 1970s glam rock era of David Bowie (who co-produced the Los Angeles production of the show), as well as the work of John Lennon and early punk godfathers Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.
The musical opened Off-Broadway at the Jane Street Theater on February 14, 1998. The theater was located in the ballroom of the Hotel Riverview, which once housed the surviving crew of the Titanic (a fact which figured in the original production). Originally directed and produced by Peter Askin, the play won a Village Voice Obie Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical. The Off-Broadway production ran for two years, and was remounted with various casts by the original creative team in Boston, Los Angeles, and London.
The character of Hedwig was originally a supporting character in the piece. She was loosely inspired by a German female babysitter/prostitute who worked for Mitchell's family when he was a teenager in Junction City, Kansas. The character of Tommy, originally conceived as the main character, was based on Mitchell himself: both were gay, the sons of an Army general, deeply Roman Catholic and fascinated by mythology. Hedwig became the story's protagonist when Trask encouraged Mitchell to showcase their earliest material in 1994 at NYC's drag-punk club Squeezebox, where Trask headed the house band and Mitchell's boyfriend, Jack Steeb, played bass.
They agreed the piece should be developed through band gigs in clubs rather than in a theater setting in order to preserve a rock energy. Mitchell was deeply influenced by Squeezebox's roster of drag performers who performed rock covers. The setlists of Hedwig's first gigs included many covers with lyrics rewritten by Mitchell to tell Hedwig's story: Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well", Television's "See No Evil", Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World", Yoko Ono's "Death of Samantha", Pere Ubu's "Non-Alignment Pact", Cher's "Half Breed", David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging", Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes", and the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale". A German glam rendition of Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" once served as the musical's finale.
Mitchell's second gig was as fill-in host at Squeezebox on a bill featuring singer Deborah Harry of Blondie. It was for this occasion that Mike Potter first designed Hedwig's trademark wig, which was initially constructed from toilet paper rolls wrapped with synthetic blond hair. Mitchell, Trask and the band Cheater (Jack Steeb, Chris Weilding, Dave McKinley and Scott Bilbrey) continued to workshop material at venues such as Fez Nightclub and Westbeth Theater Center for four years before premiering the completed musical Off-Broadway in 1998.
The story is told by Hedwig directly to the audience in the form of an extended monologue. The concept of the stage production is that the audience is watching the character Hedwig's musical act as she follows rockstar Tommy Gnosis's (much more successful) tour around the country. Occasionally Hedwig references Gnosis's concert which is playing in an adjoining venue.
Hedwig's band (including the character of Yitzhak) appears on stage for practically the entire duration of the musical, as does Hedwig herself.
Hedwig tells of Hansel, an East German "slip of a girlyboy" who loves philosophy and rock music, is stuck in East Berlin until he meets Luther Robinson, a U.S. soldier. Luther falls in love with Hansel and the two decide to marry. This plan will allow Hansel to leave communist East Germany for the capitalist West. However, in order to be married, the couple must consist of a man and a woman. Hansel's mother, Hedwig, gives her child her name and passport and finds a doctor to perform a sex change. The operation is botched, however, and her surgically constructed vagina heals closed, leaving Hansel – now Hedwig – with a dysfunctional one-inch mound of flesh between her legs, "with a scar running down it like a sideways grimace on an eyeless face."
Hedwig goes to live in Junction City, Kansas as Luther's wife. On their first wedding anniversary, Luther leaves Hedwig for a man. That same day, it is announced that the Berlin Wall has fallen and Germany will reunite.
Hedwig recovers from the separation by forming a rock band composed of Korean-born Army wives, which she names "The Angry Inch". Hedwig befriends a shy and misunderstood Christian teenager Tommy Speck, with whom she writes some songs. Hedwig gives him the stage name "Tommy Gnosis", but he later leaves her and goes on to become a wildly-successful rock star with the songs Hedwig wrote alone and with him. "Internationally ignored" Hedwig and her band the Angry Inch are forced to support themselves by playing coffee bars and strip mall dives.
The song "The Origin of Love", based on Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium, explains that three sexes of human beings once existed: "children of the sun" (man and man attached), "children of the earth" (woman and woman attached), and "children of the moon" (man and woman attached). Each were once round, two-headed, four-armed, and four-legged beings. Angry gods split these early humans in two, leaving the separated people with a lifelong yearning for their other half. Hedwig believes that Tommy is her soul mate and that she cannot be whole without him. She feels driven to either reunite with him or destroy him.
Actors who have played Hedwig onstage in the U.S. include the Tony award-winning actor Michael Cerveris, former Brat Pack member Ally Sheedy, Kevin Cahoon, Gene Dante, Rent star Anthony Rapp, stage/film actors Matt McGrath and Nick Garrison, and Australian performer iOTA. Other notable figures who have portrayed Hedwig include Chip Joyce, and Donovan Leitch, Jr., the glam-rocker son of sixties folk-rock composer Donovan. RuPaul's Drag Race season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon has also portrayed Hedwig in a Seattle production in 2013.
The show premiered in Canada with simultaneous productions in Edmonton and Vancouver in April 2003. The Theatre Network production in Edmonton -- directed by Bradley Moss and featuring Michael Scholar Jr as Hedwig and Rachael Johnston as Yitzhak -- opened April 1 and was held over until April 27. In Vancouver, Hoarse Raven Theatre's production, directed by Michael Fera, opened April 4 featuring Greg Armstrong-Morris as Hedwig and Meghan Gardiner as Yitzhak, and was held over until June 7. Further productions in Canada included the sold out 2007 production by Pickled Productions, the 2009 Toronto production by Ghost Light Projects.
In the summer of 2010, Hedwig and the Angry Inch went on stage in San Juan, Puerto Rico with actor Gil René playing the part of Hedwig and the band Simples Mortales doing all the live music. This version of Hedwig was completely translated to Spanish. Also, in the summer of 2010 the show was staged at the George Square Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In spring of 2011 English-language Prague theatre AKANDA staged Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Iron Curtain Club. Jeff Fritz as Hedwig and Uliana Elina as Yitzhak. In July 2011, the show was staged at Bangkok University.
On August 2010 a Brazilian adaptation of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Hedwig e o centímetro enfurecido) premiered in Rio de Janeiro, with actors Paulo Vilhena and Pierre Baitelli playing Hedwig. This is the first adaptation where there are two actors simultaneously playing Hedwig onstage. The play was translated by Jonas Calmon Klabin and directed by Evandro Mesquita, with musical direction by Danilo Timm and Evandro Mesquita. Eline Porto played Yitzhak, Alexandre Griva on the drums, Fabrizio Iorio on the keyboards, Patrick Laplan on the bass, and Pedro Nogueira playing the guitar. The musical previews ran from August 10 to September 3, 2010 and the full show ran from September 15 to November 6, 2010, totaling 46 performances. The same production reopened in São Paulo on August 26, 2011 and ran until October 16, 2011, for a total of 25 performances, now with actors Pierre Baitelli and Felipe Carvalhido playing Hedwig. Eline Porto played Yitzhak, Diego Andrade on the drums, Fabrizio Iorio on the keyboards, Melvin Ribeiro on the bass, and Pedro Nogueira playing the guitar. Nominated for best actor (Pierre Baitelli) and best musical direction (Danilo Timm and Evandro Mesquita) at the Prêmio Shell de Teatro. Winner of best actor (Pierre Baitelli and nominated for best production (Oz), best director (Evandro Mesquita), and best actress (Eline Porto) at the Prêmio Arte Qualidade Brasil. Also, one nomination for best musical in a Brazilian adaptation for the Prêmio Contigo de Teatro. This same production performed again in Rio de Janeiro from April 4–22, 2012, and a tour to Curitiba, performing April 26–29, 2012, for a total of 16 performances. On November 24, 2012, John Cameron Mitchell performed a concert with the Brazilian Hedwig cast and guests and there were another two performances of Hedwig in Rio, November 23 and 25, and 4 performances in Fortaleza, November 29, 30, December 1 and 2, 2012. There are another 7 performances scheduled for February 2014 in Brasilia and Recife, finalizing the Brazilian Hedwig project with a total of 100 performances.
A San Francisco production at Boxcar Theatre in summer 2012 featured twelve actors, male and female and of multiple ethnicities, portraying Hedwig in each show. A revival of the production, beginning in December 2012 and continuing through August 2013, featured eight actors nightly in the lead role.
In June 2013 JJ Parkey and Ruthie Stephens will play Hedwig and Yitzhak at the Short North Stage Production in Columbus, Ohio.
From October 2 through to November 2, 2013, Ghost Light Projects returns the production to Vancouver for a five week engagement at The Cobalt. Starring Ryan Alexander McDonald as Hedwig and Lee McKeown as Yitzhak. Music direction by Juno Award winner Mark Reid and directed by Randie Parliament and Greg Bishop.
Fans of the play and film refer to themselves as "Hedheads". In Korea and Japan, a number of teen idols and respected actors have played the role and inspired a large number of young, female Hedheads.
- 1998 Original off-Broadway Cast
- 2000 Movie Soundtrack
- 2002 "Wig" Cleveland Public Theatre Cast
- 2003 Wig in a Box (tribute album)
- 2004 UK Atrocity Tour cast
- 2005 Original Korean Cast
- 2005 Peruvian Cast (Hedwig Y la Pulgada Furiosa)
- 2006 Korean Cast
- 2006 Original Australian Cast
In 2003, Chris Slusarenko's Off Records released an album called Wig in a Box, a charity tribute album which also included new material adding to the mythology of Hedwig. Performers included Frank Black and The Breeders. Slusarenko said that he fielded questions from Kim Deal of The Breeders about Black, her former bandmate in The Pixies, with whom she'd had limited conversation since the band's breakup in 1993. They made contact soon after, and Pixies reunited the following spring. Other bands who participated in "Wig in a Box" were Yo La Tengo featuring Yoko Ono, Sleater-Kinney featuring Fred Schneider (of The B-52's), Jonathan Richman, Rufus Wainwright, Polyphonic Spree, Spoon, Imperial Teen, Bob Mould, Cyndi Lauper with The Minus Five (featuring Peter Buck of R.E.M.), The Bens (Ben Folds, Ben Lee and Ben Kweller), They Might Be Giants and Robyn Hitchcock. Trask and Mitchell completed an unfinished Tommy Gnosis song (leftover from the musical's development days) called "Milford Lake" (sung by Mitchell) and included it. The CD also features comedian Stephen Colbert reciting the spoken introduction to Tear Me Down. The profits of this album benefitted The Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of the Harvey Milk High School, a New York City public school for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth who have experienced discrimination and violence in other public schools or at home and are at risk of not completing their secondary education.
"Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig", a documentary about the making of the "Wig in a Box" benefit cd, profiled students from the Harvey Milk School. It was directed by Katherine Linton and produced by the Sundance Channel and is now available on DVD.
Meat Loaf covered "Tear Me Down" that same year on his album Couldn't Have Said It Better, modifying some of the lyrics (notably the spoken section about the Berlin Wall) so that the song is instead about Texas and Meat Loaf's own life.
Future Kings of Spain covered "Angry Inch" for the b-side of their 2003 single, "Hanging Around".
Dar Williams, who is a college friend of composer Stephen Trask, covered "Midnight Radio" on her 2008 album Promised Land.
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- "Akanda Presents Hedwig and the Angry Inch". Prague Playhouse. 2011-03-22. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
- "Hedwig.com.br". www.hedwig.com.br. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
- Nataraj, Nirmala (June 28, 2012). "Medley of Hedwigs in 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- Boxcar Theatre. "Facebook post, June 6, 2013". Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- Sokol, Robert (Dec. 19, 2012). "‘Hedwig’ gives more than an inch at San Francisco's Boxcar Theatre". SF Examiner. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- Purcell, Carey. "Neil Patrick Harris to Star in Broadway Premiere of 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' " playbill.com, June 17, 2013
- Holden, Stephen (July 20, 2001). "Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) FILM REVIEW; Betwixt, Between On a Glam Frontier". The New York Times.
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- Official Broadway website
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch (musical) at the Internet off-Broadway Database
- Hedwig.com.au Official site of the Australian production of Hedwig
- Hedwig in a Box Official fan club
- Hedwigandtheangryinch.de Official site of the German production of Hedwig
- Hedwig in Cleveland official site
- Hedwig Brazil