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THE SOPHOMORE – ePaper 1 – 150

THE SOPHOMorE 48 | 2014, received Tonys for Best Leading Actor and Best Featured Actress in a Musical. In addition to that Hedwig scored Best Revival of a Musical and Best Lighting Design, and finally, after ha- ving created the role in the 90ies and reprised it in 2015, John Cameron Mitchell was awarded with the Special Tony Award for his lifetime achievement. Hedwig, the main character the musical revol- ves around, is a force to be reckoned with. Her signature look consists of killer, gold high heels, fishnet tights wrapping around her muscular legs and provocative denim skirt and tops, always customised with aggressively showy writing and symbolism. Pink blush harshly contours her cheekbones; luscious red lipstick, blue-sparkly eyeshadow and dramatically over-drawn eye- brows conclude the look. But all of this almost fades into oblivion in light of her voluminous, icy blonde wig which makes you question the laws of physics, but even more so underlines the power that Hedwig holds. Who is this Hed- wig, and why have we never heard of her, Jerry? one confused American theatre-goer might ask. Once upon a time, Hedwig was called Hansel, a slip of a girlyboy, born in the depths of commu- nist East Berlin, Germany. And she will share her story for you in a one night only special perfor- mance. The musical is framed as a rock cabaret: a rock‘n‘roll concert, interspersed with monolo- gues by the lead performer that come across as overly long rants interluding between songs with the aim of informing the audience about her life story. Essentially, it is a one (wo-)man show: if you go to see Hedwig, you go to see the actor un- derneath the heavy make-up and wigs. Thus you only have four participants in the play: the lea- ding lady Hedwig, her husband Yitzhak (an East European former drag queen who provides back- ground vocals), her band The Angry Inch and… you, the audience of her concert. Hedwig will make sure you are aware of the house rules at any time. The show is known to be full of improvisation with scenes where the script actively demands audience participation and oc- casions in which the beauty of live theatre makes it possible for any quick-witted actor to showcase their humour. And since anything can happen at a rock concert, no boundaries are set for the reigning Hedwig. Be prepared to be called out for inappropriate behaviour or put on the spot for questionable outfit choices, and do not book seats in the first few rows unless you are a fan of bodily fluids. THE WHO IS WHO Broadway has seen six Hedwigs: Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Andrew Ran- nells (Girls, The Book of Mormon), Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Cabaret) John Cameron Mitchell (co-creator of Hedwig), Darren Criss (Glee, A Very Potter Musical) and Taye Diggs (Rent). Re- becca Naomi Jones (American Idiot) is the cur- rent Yitzhak, who took over the role from the fantastic Lena Hall (Kinky Boots), who scored a Tony for her portrayal of the brooding, tight-lip- ped backup singer and probably went down in Broadway history as the first performer to thank her own rock band upon receiving the award. The musical’s orchestra a.k.a. a four-headed rock ensemble consists of Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Tim Mislock and Peter Yanowitz, who in real life form a band as well and call themselves Tits of Clay, a nod to the material that fills Hedwig’s bra- lette. THE WHAT AND WHY So far, we have danced around the actual plot of the musical. That is because one of the main thrills of experiencing Hedwig is to take part on the journey she takes her audience through song and sarcasm. Even explaining the title addition “Angry Inch” would reveal a traumatising event in young Hedwig’s life that has most impact if found out eventually from the rock artist herself. This much should be said: Hedwig is not a trans- sexual woman, neither is she a drag performer. But he did grow up as Hansel Schmidt during the 70ies/80ies and unknowingly suffered from sexual abuse by his father who soon abandoned his son and wife. Struggling to support herself and her son, Hansel’s mothers took on a job of teaching sculpture to limbless children (this level of irony is heavily featured throughout the play) but soon the relationship between mother and child turned cold. Never fitting quite in, Hansel did find comfort in the at-the-time uprising glam rock movement - a spark that would set off her future career aspiration. After being kicked out of university, Hansel meets an American GI who shows interest in him and soon turns out to be a one-way ticket out of East Berlin over to Ameri- ca, the land of dreams and opportunity (...or so they claim, Hedwig would remind you). After years of struggle, disappointment and exploitati- on, the public does suddenly show interest in the German former military wife, however, not for her musical talent but for her mysterious connec- tions to the latest rock giant Tommy Gnosis. En- raged by the misplaced interest in her, she deli- vers a one night only special performance, where Hedwig will make sure to shed light and justice on her former dark path. From inches to feet and miles - Hedwig’s Journey At the show’s centre, if you were to pick out one of the many themes, is the notion of duality - with all its bonuses and hardships. Without a doubt this also stems from the show having two creators who in their collaboration had distin- ct roles. John Cameron Mitchell, in the 90ies a Broadway actor, wrote the book and gave Hed- wig’s characters her signature dark, sarcastic per- sonality. Stephen Trask, musical director at the nightclub Squeezebox in NYC, was looking for someone to bring a character-based rock show on stage that he could write the music for. On a flight from Los Angeles to New York City, these two creative minds met, bonded over the same interests and formed a text-book friendship that would tread the path of Hedwig’s success. Trask’s Squeezebox frequented drag performers who covered songs backed by a live band, mea- ning that when Mitchell on July 29, 1994 made his first appearance as Hedwig there, he faced an audience critical to everything that tried so- mething different. And Hedwig was different. Hedwig also was strikingly different to the look and presence she has on today’s stages, main- ly because Mitchell’s and Trask’s first attempts at the show resembled a rough series of songs and one-liner jokes without scenes as guidance throughout the performance. The creators took the time to workshop a character in front of an audience with the firm believe to breath life into something that from the outside looks like a man entertaining in drag, but is in fact a character with a backstory that anyone can relate to. At the Squeezebox, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was not a final product, it was a beginning. On February 14, 1998 Hedwig officially opened as an off-Broadway production (meaning it play- ed in houses that seated less than 500 people) at Hotel River View located on Jane Street in NYC. Finding a fitting location for an ambitious rock musical would be responsible for either the rise or fall of the new show. Trask and Mitchell had to face the question of who the audience for their theatrical rock extravaganza would be: the songs were too rock’n’roll for classical theatre fans, and the acting was too theatrical for rock’n’rol- lers. Initially, the show was deemed as too ex- perimental, too progressive for the time, with people even leaving the theatre before it ended. Nevertheless, the Jane Street Hotel embodied a combination of punk rock flair (leaking pipes, worn-down condition) and necessary theatre atmosphere (a redesigned ballroom, old-school „Be prepared to be called out for in- appropriate behaviour or put on the spot for questionable outfit choices, and do not book seats in the first few rows unless you are a fan of bodily fluids. “ Kultur

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