In some of New York’s seediest drag bars in the late 1990s, a new character and a new musical were being created. Broadway actor John Cameron Mitchell was at work, researching his idea for a show about a sex-change woman who becomes a rock star.
When he felt the show was ready in early 1997, Mitchell took it back to the drag bars where he began his research and presented his show. His character was Hedwig and the show was Hedwig And The Angry Inch.
A year later, the show became a hit off-Broadway production and played for three years. The movie was released in 2001 and earned the story of Hedwig an even bigger cult audience.
An Australian production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch is finally about to take to the boards when the show opens at Katoomba’s Clarendon Theatre Restaurant before touring to Sydney for a season at @Newtown.
Producer David Hawkins calls the show the missing link of musical theatre, and explains: Musical theatre was truly rocked when Hair came along, then Jesus Christ Superstar and Rocky Horror followed, and then there was this big space of nothing.
Then there was Hedwig, which is a show with music that pertains directly to what people are listening to on the radio.
A lot of shows are stuck in their genres and are nothing like the pop music of the day. But Hedwig has this strong score and some of these songs have worked on the music charts elsewhere in the world. It is very now.
The story also has a decidedly queer bent to it, as it follows the adventures of Hedwig, a young and effeminate gay man in East Berlin before the Wall comes down.
Determined to escape the oppressive society, he has a sex change so he can marry an American soldier and begin a new life in the US.
But the sex change operation is a botched affair, leaving Hedwig with an inch she is angry about. And when her soldier husband abandons her, she finally summons the courage to follow her dream and become a rock star.
The story is totally ambiguous and nuts, and is about identifying with being an outcast, Hawkins says. It really is a thinking man’s musical and is open to so many interpretations. I see it as a story of trying to find your other half, be that a person or your work. It is a story of a journey.
The show stars ARIA-nominated singer iota, pictured, in the lead role of Hedwig, with Blazey Best as Yitzhak. Craig Iliott is director of the Australian production.
IOTA, who makes his acting debut in the show, believes the story of Hedwig has universal appeal. Hedwig is a bit of everyone and everything, and a reflection of all of us, he says. She’s been mutilated and fucked over, and she’s angry about the way life has treated her.
But she’s fabulous and talented, and gets through it all. I think most people can relate to that and know what it’s like to be out looking for love.
Hedwig And The Angry Inch plays 7-28 July at The Clarendon in Katoomba (4782 1322), before opening 9 August at @Newtown (132 849).