Hedwig Finally Comes to Philly

-Brenda Hillegas


“I love you Hedwig,” someone shouted from the mezzanine last night.

“I love you too,” Hedwig says back, softly and very sincerely.

I was pretty close to the stage, so there’s no way I was the one who shouted. But it very well could have been me. I’m not sure how I managed to contain all of my varied emotions last night.

About 15 years ago, a good friend burned me a CD (that was a cool thing to do back then). It was the original cast recording of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This was right around the same time a movie version was released, which we watched together (after renting it from 48 Hours Video). Soon enough, I found myself purchasing the movie soundtrack as well (you had to go to the store, ask for it, have them special order it if it wasn’t in stock…meanwhile today I could have had it downloaded by the time I finish this sentence). Times have clearly changed, but Hedwig’s message has not changed. She’s just as beautiful and powerful as I expected her to be, and you can see that for yourself until April 23rd at the Forrest Theatre here in Philadelphia.

John Cameron Mitchell’s little, groundbreaking off-Broadway musical ran for 857 shows between 1998 and 2000. He wrote Hedwig, loosely based on his own lifeand originated the role. He, along with lyricist Stephen Trask, wrote the 2001 film version as well where Mitchell directed, and reprised his role as Hedwig. Over the next decade, Hedwig was performed throughout the world- Germany, the UK, Canada, Thailand, the Netherlands…to name a few. In the spring of 2014, Hedwig and the Angry Inch came to Broadway with Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig herself. Before closing, with over 500 shows, Hedwig was also played by Andrew Rannells, Michael C. Hall, John Cameron Mitchell, Darren Criss, and Taye Diggs.

A Bronx Tale The Musical
photos by Joan Marcus

Hedwig is a gender-bending rock and roller raised in communist East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. You, the audience, are also a part of this musical as you have been kind enough to come see Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch, as they perform on the abandoned set of Hurt Locker: The Musical. Hedwig tells her tale- who he was, who she is. How a story her mother used to whisper to her (“The Origin of Love”) is what determines Hedwig to search for love, to find her other half. How she ended up in America. What her ‘angry inch’ actually is (more on that later).

For the national tour of Hedwig, the role is played by Euan Morton. You may know him for originating the role of Boy George Taboo, earning him a Tony Award nomination for his performance. Morton seemed a bit uncomfortable in the beginning, though I suppose you would be too if you had to introduce yourself to a theatre full of people as you wear fishnets, a tight jean skirt, and heels. Maybe it’s just the character of Hedwig though, who just so happens to be performing this show for you on the same night her ex-songwriting partner and love interest Tommy Gnosis is performing for a sold out crowd a few miles away. Hedwig is telling her side of their fit-for-the-tabloids story.

Hannah Corneau plays Hedwig’s husband, Yitzhak, perfectly. Without giving away much, I’ll just say it’s a shame Corneau’s Yitzhak only has a few moments to shine. Yitzhak gives up a few things to be with Hedwig and accepts the role as “back-up”, standing steps behind Hedwig throughout the performance. “To walk away, you’ve got to leave something behind.” Hedwig tells Yitzhak this, just as Hedwig’s ex-husband once told her. The chemistry between Morton and Corneau as the husband/wife duo is spot-on. Distant, a bit resentful, but caring, accepting.

Morton is essentially performing a one-person show here. Ninety minutes. No intermissions. Barely any stage exits. A backing band (Justin Craig as Skszp, Matt Duncan as Jacek, Tim Mislock as Krzyzhtoff, and Peter Yanowitz as Schlatko) plays just when the time is right and drives the show through the 1970s’ glam-rock inspired music. Morton knocks it out of the theatre and straight over to Lincoln Financial Field (you’ll get it if you see this show) with “Angry Inch”, the tale of Hedwig’s botched sex change operation that was needed in order to escape Germany. “Sugar Daddy”, a song that tells the audience of Hedwig’s first meetings with Luther, is flawlessly performed (I should know, I think I’ve watched every version of it that exists on YouTube). “Wicked Little Town” and “Midnight Radio” are killer, I just have no other words. Morton certainly didn’t let me down with his performance, and anyone who can take on the emotional rollercoaster and fast-paced role that is Hedwig deserves a sold-out audience night after night.

Hedwig is timeless. She’s relatable. She is not alone. We all carry that angry inch. In the beginning of the show, Yitzhak tells the audience “For the next 90 minutes, you are not permitted to curate the present or fetishize the past because you are afraid of not having a future. Be here now, or you will be removed.” We can’t help but dwell on the past, and try as we might to leave it behind, there’s still an inch or so there with us always. It shapes us and our story.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is not for everyone (don’t sit in the front row unless you really like Red Bull and lap dances). Ironically, though, Hedwig is everyone. Hedwig is rough around the edges, but has a caring soul. We all break down sometimes, we all get knocked down, we all have good intentions that sometimes bite us in the ass. We all hopefully realize what’s right, what makes us happy, what we can do to help others, and we believe in love. Hedwig experiences all of this, you’ll see. You’ll leave the theatre holding a metaphorical torch and a desire to be more true to yourself. “Whether you like it or not,” Hedwig was here and you watched, you listened. Now, it’s your turn.

Please, please go see Hedwig and the Angry Inch if you have an open mind and an open agenda this weekend. Here’s that ticket link one more time. And if you need someone to go with you, just track me down.

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