This post is way overdue, but honestly my brain always needs some time to process plays I am seeing for the first time. The whole theater experience is immersive and kind of stunning really. The biggest compliment I can give to a play is not having anything better to say immediately after than "That was amazing!" or something just as inane and thoughtless. If the play is bad, I will instantly have about 400 reasons why it was terrible and how it could be fixed. The truth is, my silence when a play is good isn't thoughtlessness. I'm not even remotely thoughtless, but my brain is usually so full it needs some time to let all the tiny pieces that make up a stellar show stew for a bit before I have any cohesive thoughts.
Let me just say, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with Michael C. Hall, is so good it now holds the record for the longest thought-stewing time at two and half weeks before I could even begin to explain what makes this iteration of Hedwig a masterpiece. I'm probably still going to sound like a babbling idiot about this play and definitely won't get to touch on everything because I have a job that I have to go to tomorrow, but whateves.
For those unfamiliar with Hedwig, in the simplest terms it's about a botched sex change operation. It's half drag show and half rock concert with the star being Hedwig, a transgender female who had sexual reassignment surgery to escape from East Berlin with and American GI, but finds herself jilted once landing in a trailer park in Kansas. Hedwig tells her story both through drag show-style narration/audience banter and song. If you're not into audience participation, or possibly having your face licked by an actor, I'd sit in the mezzanine... it's that kind of show.
The music is totally kickass. You're not going to go to Hedwig and hear your traditional Broadway ballads. In fact, my first introduction to Hedwig was the music and I honestly thought "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" was a totally awesome punk rock band and I wondered why they never came out with a second album (I believed this for way longer than was acceptable). It's loud and angry, but if you listen to the lyrics they are well constructed pieces of poetry. My two favorites are, "The Origin of Love," and "Wig in a Box". In The Origin of Love Hedwig tells the story of how love came to be (and we're not just talking Judeo-Christian, Hetero-normative love). This song, is one of my favorite songs in the world. I've always thought it was a beautiful creation myth for love and how we can account for the love that exists between not only men and women, but between two men and two women. Here, have a listen (and a watch, this clip is from the movie version), you'll see what I mean.
My next favorite from this show is the most "Broadway" song in the show, "Wig in a Box". It's an upbeat tune about how Hedwig (and really all of us) try on different personae to find and create the person we show to the outside; the creation of a self is going to involve some trial and error. It also touches on how makeup can be and empowering defense for women. You aren't stuck with the face you don't like, you have the option to improve upon it or express yourself right there on your face and be whoever you want. Make up is often looked at as a tool of corporate oppression and don't get me wrong, it totally can be. But it can also be an effective tool for making yourself ready to face a world that has a habit of tearing you down as a proud individual. I'm doing a terrible job of telling you about it so why don't you just watch the clip from the movie version?
Obviously the movie is a different can of worms than the play, but at least you get the idea.
Hedwig is kind of like the male version of Peter Pan. It's a female character that is always played by a man. Quite a few gents have donned Hedwig's platinum locks since the original run in 1998. The first was John Cameron Mitchell (he's the guy in the movie!) who wrote the script and starred as the very first Hedwig. Hedwig is actually based off of his childhood babysitter. However, in this most recent run, the roll has already been played by Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells, and most recently Michael C. Hall (DEXTER!!!!). I would love to see 3 different men play Hedwig and see what they each bring to the role. Although I have only seen it once, I can tell you, Michael C. Hall surpasses every expectation you could have for his performance. I was a fan of Six Feet Under (until it gave me an existential crisis) and Dexter (until it went bonkers), and was super psyched to see Hall take on such a demanding role. I mean this show is all Hedwig. There is one other actor/singer on stage with minimal singing and lines, and then there is the band... that's it.
Not only can Hall sing, he has an absolutely beautiful voice that he controls with expert precision. He'd give many a full-time pro singer a run for his/her money with his seamless transitions from gravely punk rock to smooth and clean falsetto. Who knew the man behind Dexter had a set of pipes that could pull of such a challenging role?
The biggest thing Hall brought to the role that I've heard from numerous sources (no joke, people see this show with each new Hedwig) that Andrew Rannells and NPH didn't, is a deep anger and primal rage. There are a few moments that lend themselves well to this rage, and Hall came out swinging, but then he'd pull it back and becoming "Performer Hedwig" again with quick-witted jokes and raunchy humor. But every once in a while, when the show's riotousness calmed down, performer Hedwig would vanish and Hall would give you this warmhearted, worldweary Hedwig who resembles any woman who has been stomped on by the world and refuses to stay down. His performance was so dynamic and well rounded that you'd have to be a real dick to not be moved to at least feeling that lump in your throat. There was a humanity to his performance that made it impossible to feel anything other than deep compassion for Hedwig, what was taken from her, and the life the was foisted upon her. Hedwig is in her essence, all the people we dismiss and misunderstand based on the person they choose to show us every day. It's possible not to like the queeny Hedwig gyrating in your face, or the angry Hedwig verbally abusing her husband/backup singer, but you can't hate the vulnerable and broken Hedwig that comes out in her less controlled moments.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is fiercely funny, delightfully vulgar, and ultimately humanizing. While Hedwig is steeped in glam rock sequins and distracting glitter, at it's heart it is a trans woman giving voice to her experience without the input or noise that often drowns out the stories of trans individuals. This isn't a story about a group of trans people; it's one trans woman and her experience of being a person. Often the experiences of trans people are crowded out with crass curiosity about what they've got going on below the belt. Hedwig comes out and tells you outright what's going on with her genitals (in a kidass song no less!) and takes your focus away from her physical body and puts it on her human experience of wanting to be loved for all she is, scars and all. By the end of the play, Hedwig isn't a "transgender woman," she is just a human with talents, beauty, and flaws who has been broken and hurt and managed to bring herself back up. I even feel a little guilty using the word trans so many times to describe Hedwig, because she reminds us that categories are easy (gay, straight, bi, trans, butch, femme, whatever), but the things that make up a human defy categorization.
I think it goes without saying, I loved this show and would recommend it to anyone. Yes anyone...even the ultra-conservative folk because even the "other-phobic" would struggle not to feel compassion for Hedwig and to not have a hell of a time at this show. Get your tickets here! And if you happen to miss Michael C. Hall, the next man to put on those platform shoes is going to be the original Hedwig, John Cameron Mitchell, so you really can't lose!