THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: Rosie O'Donnell Gives A Mile To HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH
In honor of Andrew Rannells stepping into the Tony Award-winning stilettos of Neil Patrick Harris as the titular HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH, today we take a look back at the first time John Cameron Mitchell & Stephen Trask's masterpiece appeared on national TV via THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW.
"Don't you know me? I'm the new Berlin Wall, baby - try and tear me down!" the title character of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's decadent one-man-and-a-band rock musical HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH snarls before launching into the explosive and propulsive opening number, "Tear Me Down", at the start of the show. Idiosyncratic in not only its overall sound and style, but also its structure and tone, HEDWIG is a rich sampler for fans of rock music, with winks to a wide range of notable elements evocative of a certain era of music history (roughly mid-70s through late-90s rock n roll), all expertly conjured in Trask's sensitively composed and astonishingly insinuating series of songs. The Iggy Pop-esque "Angry Inch" reverberates with wild abandon, while the head-knocking "All Sewn Up" takes it up another notch still. Comparatively, the subdued Tom Waits-ish styling of "The Long Grift" and near-John Lennon-like "Wicked Little Town" provide appreciable juxtaposition to the louder moments, as does the Brecht & Weill-flecked "Hedwig's Lament". Lou Reed is certainly written all over many musical moments, as well - just as it should be, given that Trask himself has cited BERLIN and NEW YORK as major influences on the piece and its attitude and overall sound.
Plus, who could deny the outrageous comedy and heart-tugging pathos implicit in performance pieces such as "Wig In A Box" and "Sugar Daddy"? Then, there is "Midnight Radio" - a fiercely ferocious call to action (and call to caterwauling, in this case). It's a masterful score with few if any equals in the musical theatre realm, undoubtedly one of the most striking and unforgettably touching realizations of a song cycle as has ever been seen onstage; as theatre, concert or otherwise. Without a doubt, HEDWIG packs a plosive punch to the cranium - and rips out your heart while blowing out your eardrums in the process. It's visceral, complex, dense and highly stacked in its ambitions and by its conclusion fulfills the promise of being, unquestionably, the best rock musical of the last 20 years, if not ever.
Then, too, the Plato-inspired lyrics and driving music for "The Origin Of Love" forms a pop/rock masterpiece all to itself - and this was the musical moment chosen to present to the world as part of the original Off-Broadway cast's appearance on THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW. Mitchell launched into a full-throttle singing of the epic performance showcase accompanied by Trask himself on guitar, with Miriam Shor providing glistening backing vocals, as always. While the world at large may not have yet been ready to fully embrace such an edgy and outré piece, O'Donnell's daringness in featuring the show on daytime TV took a considerable amount of courage and is one more reason to regard her as one of Broadway's biggest supporters - then, now and always. Lest we forget, in the same ceremony where HEDWIG took home 4 Tony Awards earlier this year - including Best Revival Of A Musical, Best Actor In A Musical and Best Featured Actress In A Musical- O'Donnell herself received a special Tony Honors Award, as well - and, given incredible moments like this historical clip as presented today, befittingly so.
Following the success of the original Off-Broadway production in 1998 - itself an extension of a experimental rock theatre piece born on the stage of downtown club Squeezebox a few years before - and highlighted by a near-irreproachably magnetic lead performance by author John Cameron Mitchell, next came the subsequent 2000 feature film adaptation shepherded by Mitchell and Trask. Both returned to THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW to perform, while Mitchell sat down for an extended interview segment, as well, bringing the journey full-circle.
For even more HEDWIG history, be sure to stay tuned to BroadwayWorld for my extensive InDepth InterView with composer/lyricist Stephen Trask coming later this month.
So, now, let's journey back to the first appearance of HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH on national TV via THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW.
As a special bonus, view the return performance and interview promoting the feature film adaptation.
So, what would the world be without HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH, let alone the theatre itself? Furthermore, how thankful can we be to Rosie for giving us a first taste of the tremendously moving artistry, unforgettable music and heart-rendering story of HEDWIG? Clips like these are truly treasure-worthy and Rosie deserves a lifetime supply of glitter for giving HEDWIG a national stage to present her fabulousness - and utter genius.