Hedwig on Broadway? So wrong but so right!

Hedwig playbills

It seemed wrong to me for Hedwig, the outsider, the “internationally ignored song stylist,” to make it to Broadway; but, now that I’ve seen the Broadway production, it seems oh-so-right.

First let me say that I am not a “Hedhead” from back in the day. I’m definitely a huge fan, but I was not introduced to the show until about 6 years ago when I started writing my own show, “Depression: The Musical.” I was referred to the show because of the similarities with my show in terms of dealing with a difficult/taboo subject in a musical and using rock music. I first watched the movie. It wasn’t until last year at the PortFringe festival in Portland, Maine, that I saw a stage production. And it was just a week ago that I went to the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center to view the original stage production of Hedwig with John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask at the Jane Street Theater. Then just a week later I saw the Broadway version starring Neil Patrick Harris (who I have always thought of as Doogie Howser…never saw How I Met Your Mother).

First of all, I am so happy they stayed true to the original stage production (vs. the movie). Except of course using the setting of the Belasco Theatre and the abandoned set of the fictional Hurt Locker The Musical, which was used brilliantly by the way. And, the fake Hurt Locker Playbills strewn in the audience are amazing! (I want the creative brains that worked on putting this production together to work on my show!)

Hedwig_stage

Good move to wait for Neil Patrick Harris to be available. (They waited 2 years, I think.) I was so worried at first. Who could possibly replace John Cameron Mitchell or equal or top his performance? Well, NPH does better than that: he doesn’t replace JCM but does his own version of Hedwig, not quite as sad and a bit more bitchy. I love his interplay with the audience, especially when he told the people in the box seats to stop whining about their partial view when there were people in the back standing through the whole show.

It is so encouraging to me that a show like this is on Broadway. I just wonder what those Midwesterners are thinking when Hedwig talks about his botched sex change operation! I heard that JCM says Hedwig does not speak for the trans community since she is not trans by choice. Perhaps that technicality makes her story more digestible to Broadway audiences?

The beauty of the show is that it doesn’t matter if you can relate to the specific details of Hedwig’s life. You don’t have to be a transgender rocker from East Berlin to relate to the feelings.

One small but important change that seems to have been made in the script is when Hedwig introduces her fragrance “Atrocity”…in the original, she says the tagline is “For a man. Or a woman. Or a freak.” But NPH (possibly ad libbing?) says “For a man. Or a woman. Or a man/woman. Or a woman/man.” I was relieved to not hear the word “freak.”

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the show (despite the man with the largest head ever sitting right in front of me). Worth every cent of the $152 dollars I paid to be in the back of the orchestra. Oh, I forgot to mention that I tried the lottery but there were about 100 people who entered for the 8 or so tickets they gave out. I said, fuck it, I need to see this show before they win all those Tony Awards, which they did! So I bought a ticket at the box office. Hint: Even when they say the show is sold out, they seem to have a few tickets each night available for purchase.

During the “Midnight Radio” finale song, I found myself unexpectedly sobbing. I mean, not just tears running down my face but convulsing with sobs. Here’s the part in the song where it happened…

AND ALL THE STRANGE ROCK AND ROLLERS
YOU KNOW YOU’RE DOING ALL RIGHT
SO HOLD ON TO EACH OTHER
YOU GOTTA HOLD ON TONIGHT
AND YOU’RE SHINING
LIKE THE BRIGHTEST STARS
A TRANSMISSION
ON THE MIDNIGHT RADIO

AND YOU’R SPINNING
YOUR NEW 45S
ALL THE MISFITS AND THE LOSERS
YEAH, YOU KNOW YOU’RE ROCK AND ROLLERS
SPINNING TO YOUR ROCK AND ROLL

I definitely felt like one of the misfit, loser, strange rock and rollers the song was talking to and it felt cathartic to be reassured that there was a place in the world for me. Even on Broadway! It took over 10 years for Hedwig to make it to Broadway. I haven’t even debuted my show yet (this August at The New York International Fringe Festival!) but have been writing and developing it for 6 years already.

I came home that night and immediately bought the original soundtrack on iTunes (which I had been meaning to do anyway) because I wanted to experience nothing but Hedwig for the rest of the night. I will surely buy the Broadway soundtrack too as Tits of Clay are the tightest rock band I have ever seen/heard live. Their rocking so hard really completed the experience. (Also, shout out to Lena Hall who was amazing as Yitzhak as evidenced by her Tony win!) Stephen Trask’s songs are awesome. They are self-contained rock songs — some more punk rock, some more glam — that stand on their own outside the context of the show but also tell the story within the show, which is similar to the songs in my show.

Experiencing Hedwig live made me realize how much I want to maintain the rock integrity of my songs. However, unlike Hedwig, the conceit of my show is not me performing live on stage with a band. It’s more like me telling my story live on stage with a band present and a chorus of backup singers who are maybe possibly in my head? But, yeah, I want to preserve the rock-and-roll vibe and not give in to the temptation to polish things up for the musical theatre world. Thanks, Hedwig.

Lastly, let me just say that the biggest compliment paid to my show thus far was someone comparing it to Hedwig in its “emotional honesty” and universal appeal. Totally flattered and pleased. Hope I can live up to this.

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