It’s a play, it’s a film, it’s a cult. It’s a trash rock musical with cross-dressing. It’s HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.
Words: Donald Hutera
edwig. the title character of the erstwhile off-Bt‘ozulway cult
rock-intisical Ila/wig :lm/ The Angry Inc/I. is no lady.
Neither is her creator. .-\merican actor. writer. singer and now first—time lilm director John (‘ameron Mitchell. But fuse the two together and you‘ye got one of the most coinbtistible combinations of performer and part since Tim (‘urry donned heels. slap and scanties as l‘rank-N-Furter.
.-\nd just who is lledwig'.’ .\ self-described ‘internationally ignored song stylist‘. .-\ transsexual (ierman post-punk rock diya. .\ scramble of glam-trash worldly wisdom. wandet'ltist and \Veltsclimcr/. Think Marlene Dietrich crossed with Ziggy Stardust.
lledwig‘s history is a case of semi—political gender-bending musicalised (by Mitchell‘s mate. composer-lyricist Stephen Trask) into pop myth. Mitchell's play and film both take place as lledwig and her grungy band. the Angry lnch. obsessiyely shadow Tommy. at stadium-si/ed superstar w ho‘s achieyed fame on the uncredited back of her songs. In the stage \'Cl'.\l()n she has a long. dark night of the soul. comic yet confessional. during a gig in a diye of a club.
Beneath the loud music and raunchy patter is a sad question. Her
homeland achieyes reunification. but can Hedwig herself eyer be whole'.’ (‘an she find the Platonic other half that will complete her'.’ Riding high on the title character’s mountain of Farrah Fawcett-
style hair. and her philosophical quest. Hut/wig turned into one of
Manhattan‘s hottest tickets of the late 90s. It was the rock-theatre
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John Cameron Mitchell based Hedwig on his brother's babysitter
show it was OK for industry professionals to like (compared to Rm]. unabashedly bashed in Mitchell’s script). Hedwig. as they say in the business. ‘had legs'. It ran for two years. attracting a guest roster that included the likes of Lou Reed. Patti Smith. Madonna and l)ayid Bowie. The latter saw the production seyeral times. becoming enough of a fan to inyest in its l.os Angeles transfer. (The original cast (‘1) is a testament to the songwriting skill of Trask. whose score dips into country-rock but clearly pays indebted homage to Bowie.) The stage show is being mounted with increasing frequency. from Minneapolis to Manila. 'I‘hroughout AugUst it‘s on the Fringe. (Keyin Cahoon. who played Hedwig in New York and Boston. dons the big wig in lidinburgh.) ‘lt's proliferating. and it's beyond mef says Mitchell. speaking from New York. ‘But it feels great. like my kid‘s doing yer well. I do hope the film gets the play seen in unusual places. It’s fairly cheap to put on. I‘d love to see it in my high school. or in nursing homes and colleges.‘
The globalisation of Hedwig kicks into high gear with the ﬁlm Version. screened as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festiyal. It opens up. softens and reshapes Mitchell's cabaret-style material. introducing effectiye animated sequences while underlining the quality of Trask's songwriting. It also allows Mitchell to do a funny and touching star turn. complete with kick-ass meals.
The real Hedwig — or. more accurately. the person upon whom she's based — was an ex-Berliner whom the adolescent Mitchell. now