Hedwig and the Angry Inch (musical)
name= Hedwig and the Angry Inch
caption=Original Off-Broadway Playbill
John Cameron Mitchell
productions= 1998 off-Broadway
? Los Angeles
2001 movie version
2005 South Korea
Outer Critics Circle Award
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is a
rock musicalabout a fictional rock and rollband fronted by an East German transgendersinger. The text is by John Cameron Mitchell, and the music and lyrics are by Stephen Trask. The musical premiered in 1998 and has been performed throughout the world in hundreds of stage productions. It has gathered a devoted cult followingsimilar to that of " The Rocky Horror Picture Show".
The story draws on Mitchell's life as the son of a
U.S. Army Major Generalwho once commanded the U.S. sector of occupied West Berlin. The character of Hedwig was originally inspired by a German woman, a divorced U.S. Army wife who was a Mitchell family babysitter that moonlighted as a prostitute at her Junction City, Kansastrailer park home. The music is steeped in the androgynous 1970s glam rockera of David Bowie(who co-produced the Los Angelesproduction of the show), as well as the work of John Lennonand early punk godfathers Lou Reedand Iggy Pop.
The musical opened
Off-Broadwayat the Jane Street Theateron February 14, 1998. The theater was located in the ballroom of the Hotel Riverview, which once housed the surviving crew of the Titanic (a fact which figured in the original production). Originally directed and produced by Peter Askin, the play won a Village Voice Obie Awardand the Outer Critics Circle Awardfor Best Off-Broadway Musical. The Off-Broadway production ran for two years, and was remounted with various casts by the original creative team in Boston, Los Angeles, and London.
The character of Hedwig was originally a supporting character in the piece. She was loosely inspired by a German female babysitter/prostitute who worked for Mitchell's family when he was a teenager in Junction City, Kansas. The character of Tommy, originally conceived as the main character, was based on Mitchell himself: both were gay, the sons of an Army general, deeply Roman Catholic and fascinated by mythology. Hedwig became the story's protagonist when Trask encouraged Mitchell to showcase their earliest material in 1994 at NYC's drag-punk club Squeezebox, where Trask headed the house band and Mitchell's boyfriend, Jack Steeb, played bass.
They agreed the piece should be developed through band gigs in clubs rather than in a theater setting in order to preserve a rock energy. Mitchell was deeply influenced by Squeezebox's roster of drag performers that performed rock covers. The setlists of Hedwig's first gigs included many covers with lyrics rewritten by Mitchell to tell Hedwig's story:
Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well", Television's "See No Evil", Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide Word", Yoko Ono's "The Death of Samantha", Pere Ubu's "Non-alignment Pact", Cher's "Half Breed", David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging" and "All the Young Dudes", and the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale". A German glam rendition of Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" once served as the musical's finale.
Mitchell's second gig was as fill-in host at Squeezebox on a bill featuring singer
Deborah Harryof Blondie. It was for this occasion that Mike Potter first designed Hedwig's trademark wig, which was initially constructed from toilet paper rolls wrapped with synthetic blond hair. Mitchell, Trask and the band Cheater (Jack Steeb, Chris Weilding, Dave McKinley and Scott Bilbrey) continued to workshop material at venues such as Fez Nightclub and Westbeth Theater Center for four years before premiering the completed musical Off-Broadway in 1998.
The story is told by Hedwig directly to the audience in the form of an extended
monologue. The conceit of the stage production is that the audience are watching the character Hedwig's musical act she follows rockstar Tommy Gnosis's (much more successful) tour around the country. Occasionally Hedwig references Gnosis's concert which is playing in an adjoining venue.
Hedwig's band (including the character of Yitzhak) appears on stage for practically the entire duration of the musical, as does Hedwig herself.
Hedwig tells of Hansel, an East German "slip of a girlyboy" who loves philosophy and rock music, is stuck in
East Berlinuntil he meets Luther Robinson, a U.S. soldier. Luther falls in love with Hansel and the two decide to marry. This plan will allow Hansel to leave communist East Germanyfor the capitalist West. However, in order to be married, the couple must consist of a man and a woman. Hansel's mother, Hedwig, gives her child her name and passport and finds a doctor to perform a sex change. The operation is botched, however, and her surgically constructed vagina heals closed, leaving Hansel – now Hedwig – with a dysfunctional one-inch mound of flesh between her legs, "with a scar running down it like a sideways grimace on an eyeless face."
Hedwig goes to live in
Junction City, Kansasas Luther's wife. On their first wedding anniversary, Luther leaves Hedwig for another man. That same day, it is announced that the Berlin Wallhas fallen and Germanywill reunite.
Hedwig recovers from the separation by forming a rock band composed of Korean-born Army wives, which she names "The Angry Inch". Hedwig befriends a shy and misunderstood Christian teenager
Tommy Speck, with whom she writes some songs. Hedwig gives him the stage name "Tommy Gnosis", but he later leaves her and goes on to become a wildly-successful rock star with the songs Hedwig wrote alone and with him. "Internationally ignored" Hedwig and her Angry Inch are forced to support themselves by playing coffee bars and strip mall dives.
The song "The Origin of Love", based on
Aristophanes' speech in " Plato's Symposium", explains that human beings were once round, two-headed, four-armed, and four-legged beings. Angry gods split these early humans in two, leaving the separated people with a lifelong yearning for their other half. Hedwig believes that Tommy is her soul mate and that she cannot be whole without him. She feels driven to either reunite with him or destroy him.
Tear Me Down"
The Origin of Love"
Random Number Generation" (cast album only)
The Angry Inch"
*"Wig in a Box"
Wicked Little Town"
The Long Grift"
*"Wicked Little Town (Reprise)"
There is debate as to whether this musical is about a transsexual woman or a
drag queen, a male or a female. Many people consider Hedwig to be a transsexual because she had gender reassignment surgery. However, the operation does not result in a distinctly female or male genital structure, and her reasons for undergoing it are largely situational (a means to escape East Germany via marriage) rather than being related to an innate gender identity. Hedwig herself seems rather ambivalent about her gender status, but in the song "Wig in a Box" she does refer to "the woman I've become", suggesting that she regards herself as female at that point in the story. At the story's end, when Hedwig has shed her female garments and seems to be embracing an androgynously masculine persona, the character still sings of herself alongside notable female rock figures ("Here's to Patti, and Tina, and Yoko, Aretha, and Nona, and Nicoand me"; from "Midnight Radio"). However, the variety of physical and mental signs of sex and gender and the lack among them of any clear-cut, definite answer as to Hedwig's identity may also be accepted as just that: nonbinary gender, transgender, androgynous, genderqueeror genderfuck.
Some people consider Hedwig a symbol of
queeridentity, as a figure of gender variation and freedom to choose an identity according to one's heart's desire. Hedwig's second spouse and bandmate, an aspiring drag queen named Yitzhak (who is played by a woman, Miriam Shor, in both the stage and film versions), also reflects this theme. In the stage version and final edit of the film it is unclear whether Yitzhak is male or female; in the film's DVD commentary, the cinematographer calls a kiss between Hedwig and Yitzhak the movie's "heterosexual moment", to which Mitchell responds that this isn't necessarily so, since Yitzhak's gender is never specified. A deleted scene on the DVD release shows Hedwig meeting Yitzhak in a drag show in Eastern Europe; this scene makes it clear that Yitzhak is a drag queen performing under the name "Krystal Nacht, the Last Jewess of the Balkans", and that Hedwig has forced Yitzhak to abandon his drag persona. This scene was presumably deleted to make the genders of both characters and their relationship more ambiguous. However, even in the final edit, it becomes clear that during the course of the film a frustrated Yitzhak takes on a masculine role purely for Hedwig's sake, and when finally allowed to appear as a glamorous drag queen at the end, is at last fulfilled.
The play and film have different endings, and both have led to many interpretations by critics and fans. The play ends with Hedwig and Tommy seeming to merge into one person, with some suggestion that perhaps they were the same person all along. As for the film, it takes even more of a turn into
surrealismafter Hedwig and Tommy's car crash, and it's difficult to say if the events depicted are literally occurring, if Hedwig is imagining them, or if something else is happening. One interpretation has it that Hedwig (and possibly Tommy) were killed in the crash and that everything after the crash is flashing through Hedwig's mind as she dies. There is a certain logic to this; after the crash, there is a montage of Hedwig's dreams seemingly coming true (she achieves fame, she is acknowledged as the writer of Tommy's hit songs, etc.), followed by a scene where she appears in one of the much-despised Bilgewaters restaurants and sings a song raging about her tragic life, perhaps feeling one last stab of bitterness in the final moments of her existence. She laments how her various relationships have taken parts of her, but goes on to assert that she has reconstructed herself, sewn up in bits and pieces as an exquisite corpsethat still shows the impact of those she has known. After this, Hedwig finds herself in a vast, black, empty concert hall, where Tommy and Hedwig share a loving but tearful goodbye, after which Tommy slips away into the darkness, leaving Hedwig alone. Then Hedwig is surprised to find herself abruptly transported to a gleaming white (heavenly?) concert hall, and she performs the joyous, reflective "Midnight Radio" for an appreciative crowd. Her feminine clothing and faux breasts stripped away, she hands her wig over to a grateful Yitzhak, who immediately transforms into the glamorous drag queen he always wanted to be while he was trapped in Hedwig's shadow. The crowd carries Yitzhak away from Hedwig — another symbolic farewell — and the next we see of Hedwig, she is naked and staggering away from us down a dark wet alley (some have likened it to a birth canal) that feeds into a busy city street. We see her tattoo (which illustrates the story of "The Origin of Love" with a Taoist-inspired symbol of two half-faces) magically morphing into a single, whole face. Hedwig reaches the curb, looks both ways, crosses the street and disappears.
In interviews, Mitchell has referred to the character moving on to a new and more integrated life after the events of the film, which—depending on one's view of death—suggests that the death interpretation might not be the intended one.
Gnostic Christian influences
Tommy's interpretation of the
Book of Genesis(he regards Eve's eating of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evilas a positive, knowledge-seeking act) and his identification of Hedwig with Eve as the knowledge-giver is influenced by Christian Gnosticphilosophy and inspired Tommy's nom-de-rock, Tommy Gnosis. It is likely that the name Tommy comes from the Gospel of Thomas. These very early (from the first two centuries A.D.) Gnostic gospelswere condemned as hereticalby the early Christian Church and rejected from the list of gospels deemed suitable for inclusion in the New Testament. Many of these texts (along with elements of Plato's " Republic") were buried in a single sealed jar--probably by a monk soon after 367 A.D. to protect them from destruction--in the desert near Nag Hammadi, Egypt and were only discovered in 1945. They were finally released to the public in 1977 as the Nag Hammadi Library. In general, the Gnostics advocated a personal search for an inner gnosis, or spiritual knowledge, as opposed to seeking salvation through the dictates of a hierarchical church. Twin and doppelgangerimagery abound and many texts seemed to be more open to the idea of women as equal partners in spirituality (e.g., Eve was revered and there was a Gospel of Mary[Magdelene] ). Some quotes from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomasare included in the Dramatist Play Service publication of "Hedwig":
"Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into one, so that the male be not male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the kingdom."
"Jesus' disciples said to him, "Is circumcision useful?" He said to them, "If it were useful, their father would produce children already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become profitable in every respect."
"Jesus said, "What you bring forth from within you will save you. What you do not bring forth will destroy you."
"Jesus said, "Do not fret from morning to evening and from evening to morning about what you are going to wear."
Actors that have played Hedwig onstage in the U.S. include the Tony award-winning actor
Michael Cerveris, former Brat Packmember Ally Sheedy, "Rent" star Anthony Rapp, stage/film actors Matt McGrath and Nick Garrison, and Donovan Leitch, Jr., the glam-rocker son of sixties folk-rock composer Donovan.
In 2000, Mitchell directed and starred in a film adaptation of the musical.
The original production won a
Village Voice Obie Awardand the Outer Critics Circle Awardfor Best Off-Broadway Musical.
Fans of the play and film refer to themselves as "Hedheads". In Korea and Japan, a number of teen idols and respected actors have played the role and generated a large number of young, female Hedheads.
*1998 Original off-Broadway Cast
*2000 Movie Soundtrack
*2002 "Wig" Cleveland Public Theatre Cast
Wig in a Box(tribute album)
*2004 UK Atrocity Tour cast
*2004 Tribute album
*2005 Original Korean Cast
*2005 Peruvian Cast (Hedwig Y la Pulgada Furiosa)
*2006 Korean Cast
*2006 Original Australian Cast
In 2003, Chris Slusarenko's Off Records released an album called "
Wig in a Box", a charity tribute albumwhich also included new material adding to the mythology of "Hedwig". Performers included Frank Blackand The Breeders. Slusarenko said that he fielded questions from Kim Dealof The Breeders about Black, her former bandmate in The Pixies, with whom she'd had limited conversation since the band's breakup in 1993. They made contact soon after, and The Pixies reunited the following spring. Other bands who participated in "Wig in a Box" were Yo La Tengofeaturing Yoko Ono, Sleater-Kinneyfeaturing Fred Schneider(of The B-52s), Jonathan Richman, Rufus Wainwright, Polyphonic Spree, Spoon, Imperial Teen, Bob Mould, Cyndi Lauperwith The Minus Five (featuring Peter Buck of REM), The Three Bens ( Ben Folds, Ben Leeand Ben Kweller), They Might Be Giantsand Robin Hitchcock. Trask and Mitchell completed an unfinished Tommy Gnosis song (leftover from the musical's development days) called "Milford Lake" (sung by Mitchell) and included it. The cd also features comedian Stephen Colbertreciting the spoken introduction to " Tear Me Down". The profits of this album benefitted The Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of the Harvey Milk High School, a New York City public school for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgenderand questioning youth who have experienced discrimination and violence in other public schools or at home and are at risk of not completing their secondary education.
"Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig", a documentary about the making of the "Wig in a Box" benefit cd, profiled students from the Harvey Milk School. It was directed by Katherine Linton and produced by the Sundance Channel and is now available on DVD.
gothic metalband Type O Negativecovered "Angry Inch" on their 2003 album " Life Is Killing Me". Meat Loafcovered "Tear Me Down" that same year on his album " Couldn't Have Said It Better", modifying some of the lyrics (notably the spoken section about the Berlin Wall) so that the song is instead about Texasand Meat Loaf's own life.
One of the bonus tracks of "", "Pirate In A Box" by
Lemon Demon, is a parody of "Wig In a Box". Ben Jelencovered Hedwig's version of "Wicked Little Town" on his 2004 album " Give It All Away". Future Kings of Spaincovered "Angry Inch" for the b-side of their 2003 single, "Hanging Around". Dar Williams, who is a college friend of composer Stephen Trask, covered "Midnight Radio" on her 2008 album "Promised Land".
* [http://www.get-hed.com/ Official site]
* [http://www.hedwig.com.au/ Hedwig.com.au Official site of the Australian production of Hedwig]
* [http://www.hedwiginabox.com/ Hedwig in a Box Official fan club]
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