I’m not sure how I actually stumbled on Hedwig & the Angry Inch. All I know is I watched the movie and based on the description, expected something more along the lines of a comedy. And don’t get me wrong, it definitely is funny, but it was also so much more serious and moving than I expected going in. Maybe those expectations are why I like it so much–it’s one thing to go into something and come out let down, but it’s entirely different to go in expecting something lighthearted and come out impressed.
I really wanted to go see it on Broadway last year. Being a fan of it was enough, but the cast they had of Hedwigs was ridiculous. Neil Patrick Harris kicked it off, creator and original star John Cameron Mitchell returned for a run, Darren Criss of Glee and A Very Potter Musical fame did it, and even Taye Diggs took a turn. On one trip to the casino, I said that if I hit, I was going home and booking a flight to New York and scoring Hedwig tickets. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I knew that these things usually come around on tours.
And it did, for a whopping two nights in Pittsburgh. I’d shown Brandon the movie back when I first saw it, as I always did when I watched something I really liked when I was still living at home–I mean, I still do it now, but when you live with someone, it’s way easier to sit them down and make them watch a movie with you–so he said he’d go with me. We ditched our significant others for the evening and just went out on our own. I think Paul would probably like it, but I’d rather show him (and Kelly) the movie first before spending money on tickets to a show he may end up not liking after all.
And then when I went to order tickets, I got lucky–there were seats available in the second row. Normally, those are pretty expensive, but I guess since Hedwig doesn’t have the same draw as, like, the Hamilton tour will, they were cheaper. I saw it as an opportunity. Not only are those rare, but I was totally comfortable paying that price to get them and until we’re all totally rich later in life, this is one of the few chances we’re gonna get to do that. So I went for it.
So we get to the theater, and I’m pumped for these second-row seats. And then the usher takes us to…not the second row. It was a second row–the second row of the house seats–but the ones I thought I’d paid for were even closer, up in the director’s circle. At first, I thought that in my excitement ordering, I’d looked at something wrong and not ordered what I thought I was ordering, but then I looked at the tickets. Nope, they were for something like row BB, and we’d been taken to just regular B. So I asked another usher on my way back from a bathroom trip and sure enough, she took me to where I was sure I belonged, and I waved Brandon up to follow. For some reason, the ushers were off their game that night, because a girl nearby had the opposite problem where an usher took her to a seat that was better than what she’d paid for, which caused some confusion when the people who had paid for those seats showed up. It was strange. I’ve never had that happen before, let alone seen it happen to someone else the same night.
Having seats that close was really cool. For a more conventional show, I might not do it–being that close can actually make it tough to see what’s happening, but because Hedwig is presented as almost more of a concert, that wasn’t really an issue. And because you’re so close, you feel like you and the people around you are the only ones there. Sure, you can hear the cheering and applause behind you, but all you see is the row in front of you, the stage, and the people in the immediate vicinity. I was really glad I went for it, even when we were in danger of being groped and spit on by Hedwig. Like I said, more like a concert.
And that’s the major difference between the movie and the stage show, which I knew–the format of the show wouldn’t translate well to film, honestly. The film takes a more standard narrative approach, where you watch things happen and play out. But again, onstage, it’s more like a concert. The cast is just Hedwig and her band performing right in front of you, and rather than watch a story unfold, it’s like you’re actually at Hedwig’s concert. She tells you about herself and her life, and in that sense, it is exactly like the movie, just presented differently. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have a clear plot, because it does, and in a very typical sense. You have character development, you have a narrative arc with a climax and denouement, all that.
On the whole, it’s a serious, moving story about Hedwig’s botched gender reassignment, hence the “angry inch,” and he relationship with an aspiring rock star who essentially steals her songs and hits it big with them. And although it’s a pretty funny show packed with wit, you’re essentially watching Hedwig become more and more unhinged, being hostile and even aggressive toward her band until she completely loses it in the end. But I think what I love about it and what makes Hedwig more sympathetic than one might expect is that she’s angry, and for good reason. Sure, the issues of sexuality and gender that the show explores are something I can’t relate to, but I totally relate to Hedwig when it comes to how upset and angry she is. Maybe not for the same reasons, as I’ve obviously never had a lover steal my work and become hugely successful with it, but I have been there emotionally. And even if one hasn’t, it’s not hard to feel bad for her and feel like she’s been put through shit she doesn’t deserve. And although those things don’t justify how she behaves, they explain it.
Maybe that’s why I’m so moved at the very end and cried a little during the final song. Which is a great song, by the way. They all are, even taken out of context.
And despite its at times serious tone, humor is one of its strengths, with plenty of wit thrown into the lines and characters. I don’t know who’s responsible for this, but I have to give them credit–many of the jokes and references were to local things. One of the second-row perks was being able to hear Hedwig yell, “Too many fucking PIEROGIS!” when one of her costumes wasn’t zipping, and one of our favorites was a line about going to Eat ‘N’ Park, where Hedwig “neither ate nor parked.” A blog post I stumbled upon later from a North Carolinan said Hedwig mentioned the controversial bathroom bill, saying that she couldn’t use any public bathrooms in the state. There was also a running gag about Hedwig following a shortened run of Hurt Locker: The Musical, and they went so far as to scatter fake programs for it all over the theater so that they littered the floor when you came in. When I first saw them, I thought they were leftovers from the previous night’s show, then I remember that 1) the Benedum cleans and 2) the previous night’s show would’ve been Hedwig, meaning that even if I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see that they clearly said Hurt Locker, they still obviously looked nothing like the Hedwig programs. After their purpose became more obvious, Brandon and I grabbed a couple as we left just out of curiosity, and the effort put into them was ridiculous. They’re much shorter than a real program would be, but they still include photos and bios for the fake cast. Some poke fun at actual actors, but others make fun of theater and the entertainment industry in general.
And of course, the cast/band was excellent. With so many high-profile Hedwigs gracing the stage on Broadway, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with high hopes from the touring cast, and they absolutely delivered. Hedwig sounded great and had the perfect attitude and was so fun to watch.
The whole thing was great, and I loved it. I hope it makes a return.