Belasco Theatre, April 24, 2014
Lead Cast: Neil Patrick Harris (Hedwig), Lena Hall (Yitzhak)
Book: John Cameron Mitchell
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Trask
Director: Michael Mayer
Cut to the Chase: If you don’t feel like reading this entire post, here’s the take away: Neil Patrick Harris gives the performance of a lifetime in this first-ever Broadway production of Hedwig. He knows it and the audience knows it. And his joy in giving this performance to us comes across. Although NPH is fully immersed in the complex character of Hedwig, every so often, he seems to look out at us as if to say, “Isn’t it amazing to share this together?”
The Plot: Hedwig (formerly Hansel) is the product of a botched sex change operation in her native East Germany. The surgery has left her with only an “angry inch” of her manhood.
Hedwig is appearing at the Belasco “for one night only” with her backup band The Angry Inch (which includes her husband Yitzhak, who is played by a woman, Lena Hall. (Got that?). The show is made up of Hedwig’s autobiographical reminiscences interspersed with original songs that range from touching love ballads to raw punk rants.
Background: Hedwig first trod the boards in a 1998 Obie-winning off-Broadway production at the Jane Street Theatre. (No “legitimate” theatre would go near it). John Cameron Mitchell, a former drag performer who wrote the show’s book, played the title role.
According to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, Trask described the off-Broadway show’s reception this way: “We slowly built a coalition of the sliver of theatergoers who didn’t mind the drag and the punk rock, the rockers who didn’t mind the drag and the theater, the gay audiences who didn’t mind the rock music.” A film version of the show (a cult classic) was released in 2001, starring and directed by Mitchell.
The Broadway Production: The show is flashy, trashy, energizing, and mesmerizing, from its first moment to its last. Hedwig makes her entrance by parachuting onto the stage in full wigalia, trashtastic gold high-heeled boots, and a costume that I can’t begin to describe. Her introduction: “Here she is, whether you want her or not, the internationally ignored song stylist…” Harris then further reels the audience in with a monologue (new for the Broadway production) about how Hedwig has finally landed on Broadway—well, actually not exactly ON Broadway—more like East of Broadway, or “Ebra.”
The set, composed of a junked car and bombed out debris, is left over from the failed fictional production Hurt Locker, the Musical, recently opened, then closed at intermission. Harris struts his stuff all over the stage, exhibiting a physicality that is impressive and unending. (He remains on stage for the entire 95 minutes).
The Angry Inch band rocks, and although Hedwig is intent on keeping Yitzhak’s voice under wraps, Ms. Hall (an original Kinky Boots cast member who also headlines the rock band The Deafening) does manage to show off her impressive voice, especially in a gorgeous solo late in the show (giving Mr. Harris a much-needed rest).
By the end of the show, the Hurt Locker set is gone and Hedwig has shed her wigs and drag costumes. She stands before us as herself, nearly naked, without artifice. She has accepted herself, and we can decide for ourselves to take her or leave her. Judging by the screams in the Belasco Theatre, New York has embraced Hedwig as our own.
Trivia: Hedwig’s cult fans are known as “Hedheads.”
Mitchell has said the Hedwig character is based on his childhood babysitter, a woman named Helga, whom he describes as “A German army wife and also a prostitute.”
Arianne Phillips (Costume Design), Kevin Adams (Lighting Design), and Mike Potter (Wigs and Makeup Design) all come to the Broadway production having worked on the original off-Broadway and/or film productions of Hedwig with Mitchell and Trask.
Should You Go? People are going to be talking about NPH’s performance and this production forever. If you miss it, you miss out, and boohoo for you. So, “Put on some makeup; turn on the eight track” and get over to the Belasco, before it’s too late.
Ticket Tips: Because this show is blessed with a double-cult following (Hedwig + NPH), you’re not going to find it on TKTS or TDF. I tried using a Playbill.com offer a couple of days before opening, but, too late. So, what do you do if you don’t want to spend $139 or more? I suggest going to the box office and rolling the dice. There are tickets available. I originally asked for dates in mid-May, but balked at the prices they quoted me for mediocre seats. Finally, the box office woman inexplicably asked, “How about a $79 ticket this Thursday?” I was suspicious, but it was Row G of the mezzanine, center aisle—an excellent seat. So, persistence pays off. (Frankly, I have no idea why the seat was $79. I just gave her my Amex before she could change her mind). There is also a standing room line that forms many hours before curtain ($29). I would suggest getting there by 1:00 for an 8:00 curtain (no fun, but desperate times…). There is also a Lottery Rush ($37) for around 20 tickets that begins 2-1/2 hours before curtain.
A Helpful Hint: If you are not familiar with the songs, I strongly suggest you go on YouTube and watch a few of the numbers from the film (“Tear Me Down,” “Wig in a Box,” “Wicked Little Town,” and “Midnight Radio,” and probably others, are available). You will definitely enjoy the performance more if you’re already somewhat familiar with the lyrics.