John Cameron Mitchell’s masterful rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch has had a long arc to a Broadway mounting. Since premiering in 1998 in a converted theater space off-Broadway, the show has been performed all over the world. Mitchell adapted, directed, and starred in the feature film adaptation in 2001 that received a Golden Globe nomination and critical acclaim. It helped launch Mitchell as a director capable of getting difficult projects to the screen–Shortbus and Academy Award-nominated Rabbit Hole included–and created demand for a Broadway mounting.
Soon, in 2014, we’re finally going to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. John Cameron Mitchell has been working on changes to the book for years to account for the different space and societal changes since the show debuted.
It’s not surprising that, 16 years later, Mitchell himself will not be playing the title role. That honor goes to Neil Patrick Harris. Harris has previously starred in the Broadway debut of Assassins in an excellent turn as the Balladeer, which is one of the trickier parts in the show. His Bobby in the NY Philharmonic production of Company was strong, as well. I love his work on the recording of the lesser-known Evening Primrose by Stephen Sondheim (TV musical special).
What Harris has is legitimate theater chops. He has a great stage presence. He moves well. And, most importantly, Hedwig is easily in his vocal range. I’m curious to see what Neil Patrick Harris brings to this role.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is, undoubtedly, a strange show. It’s a musical about a young man so desperate to escape the oppression of the USSR’s stranglehold over East Berlin that he has an irreversible medical procedure to pose as a woman and flee as a war bride. As soon as he lands in America, the Berlin Wall falls. His lover leaves him for another man and he starts a rock band. It only gets stranger from there.
Part of the reason Hedwig and the Angry Inch has taken so long to get to Broadway is the rewrite. The current version of Hedwig is an immersive show. It’s a rock concert at a restaurant across the street from a much larger rock arena. Hedwig interacts with the audience, including the infamous car wash gag. There’s a set script with audience and band banter, but Hedwig has to sell it like it’s a brand new experience every night.
John Cameron Mitchell needed to find a way to translate this raw energy into the more formal setting of Broadway. Conceivably, the show could take a page from Roundabout’s Studio 54 and have cabaret style seating rather than a traditional orchestra. They could borrow from Murder Ballad or Spring Awakening (to name two) and have audience members sitting onstage or surrounding the actors, as well.
But I think Mitchell is more creative than that. I imagine the changes to the show make it a period piece rather than a contemporary story as it’s traditionally done. If he shifts the setting, they won’t need onstage seating or even direct interaction. With the right monologues, the spirit of Hedwig will live on Broadway.
That makes the first show I have to see next season. We’re only a few weeks out from the Tony Awards and I’m already looking forward to Spring 2014 shows.
Thoughts on Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Share them.