Friday, April 30, 2010
'Hedwig' inches to B'way stage
By Michael Riedel, NY Post
Before there was Lady Gaga, there was Hedwig.
The (fictitious) transgender rock singer from East Germany first gained notoriety in 1998 in the hit off-Broadway musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Since then, she's become a cult figure, appearing in the 2001 movie -- which vies with "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" as the favorite midnight flick on college campuses -- and in stage productions around the world.
This fall, she's returning to New York to make her Broadway debut.
John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the musical with composer and lyricist Stephen Trask, will reprise the role he created so memorably 12 years ago at the gloriously rundown Jane Street Theatre in the West Village.
"Hedwig is ageless," says Mitchell. "But I'm almost 47, which means I'm at the gym every day, trying to get my old body back, my paunch down and my stamina up.
"I haven't acted since I did the movie," he adds. "The role is so hard and so challenging that it made me give up acting and concentrate on writing and directing. It's like Hamlet. Except that Hamlet doesn't have to sing 15 great songs. In a dress."
David Binder, who produced the musical off-Broadway, is heading up the revival. Peter Askin, the original director, is also on board.
But this "Hedwig" won't be a carbon copy of the first.
"The main thing we've learned about this show," says Binder, "is that it has to take place in the theater it's in at the moment. If it's a dive, the show has to be set in a dive. If it's in a Broadway theater, it's going to be set in a Broadway theater."
One thought is to fashion a story line that has Hedwig playing a one-night-only gig at a Broadway house. The previous show hasn't moved out yet, so Hedwig is scrambling around an old set.
"Before the recession started, when 'Rent' was closing, we thought it would fun to do the show at the Nederlander, using whatever remained of the 'Rent' set," says Mitchell. "Hedwig is a hermit crab. Wherever we end up, we'll adapt the design of the show to the theater."
(I'd love to see Hedwig strung out on Michael Feinstein's white piano at "All About Me," which is closing Sunday. Or perhaps she'll dance with whatever remains of the giant squid in "The Addams Family," which may be history at the Lunt-Fontanne by fall.)
Trask, whose music remains as potent and beautiful as ever, says he'll write a few new songs, incorporating musical ideas he's come across in productions around the world.
"The Danes did a spectacular 'Sugar Daddy,' " he says, adding that the background vocal included the Danish slang for oral sex. "We rarely disapprove of any production. Our favorite thing is to let things happen organically."
"In Texas, the show was set in a Black Angus Steakhouse," adds Mitchell. "We loved that."
The popularity of rock musicals "Spring Awakening," "Passing Strange" and the upcoming "American Idiot" convinced the "Hedwig" team that Broadway is the best place for their show.
"Back in 1998, Broadway was unthinkable," says Trask. "That's no longer the case."
Adds Mitchell: "The music is less scary, the drag is less scary."
"Hedwig" has had a huge influence on the creators of the current crop of rock musicals.
Duncan Sheik has said it encouraged him to write "Spring Awakening." Stew, who created "Passing Strange," says that when it comes to rock musicals, "Hedwig" is "the real thing."
As for Lady Gaga, although they've never met her, Mitchell and Trask have a hunch she was among the young would-be rockers who saw "Hedwig" again and again down on Jane Street.
"There's no question," says Mitchell, "that Lady Gaga and Hedwig are from the same clan."