BWW Exclusive: The Life and Times of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
On July 2, 2017, the national tour of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH concluded its ten-month long national run. The tour, which starred Euan Morton as the titular Hedwig Robinson and Hannah Corneau as Yitzhak at the time of its closing, came a year after the closing of the Broadway production.
The show tells the story of Hedwig Schmidt, an "internationally ignored" singer and songwriter from East Berlin, who endured a botched sex change and countless heartbreaks before the events of the show even begin. With no fourth wall between the show's performance and audience, Hedwig speaks directly to the audience in her one-night only concert and tells her story.
The show, which has amassed a cult following and a dedicated set of fans, has become incredibly popular around the world with dozens of major productions since its 1998 Off-Broadway premiere. With themes such as gender, sexuality, and finding acceptance and one's place in the world, the show was an instant hit within the LGBTQ+ community.
The show has also inspired a cosplay community, much like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, as fans dress up as the characters, often with detailed costumes, wigs, and makeup.
With ever-changing improvisation and ad-libbed scenes, as well as audience participation, no HEDWIG show is ever the same twice, helping transform the show from avant garde performance piece into a beloved piece of musical theatre.
ORIGINAL OFF-BROADWAY PRODUCTION
Opening on Valentine's Day in 1998, the original Off-Broadway production of HEDWIG opened in New York City's Jane Street Theatre, where it played 857 productions over the course of two years, closing on April 9, 2000. Directed by Peter Askin with musical staging by Jerry Mitchell, the role of Hedwig was played by the show's book-writer and co-creator, John Cameron Mitchell.
Other notable actors to play Hedwig during this initial run included Ally Sheedy, the first woman to play the role, who stepped into the role on September 20, 1999, and Michael Cerveris, who performed the role from July 8 to August 4, 1998.
Also starring in the production was Miriam Shor as Yitzhak, and the show's lyricist and music writer Stephen Trask as band member Skszp. The production went onto win both the Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, as well as special citations for Stephen Trask and the cast.
During the Broadway production, some of the actors playing Hedwig would make an in-character reference to the original production, noting that they were barred entry to the Jane Street Hotel for varying reasons.
HEDWIG went on to play several productions within the United Kingdom, including a short run in the West End's Playhouse Theatre. Running from September 19, 2000 to November 4 of the same year, the production again starred Cerveris.
Over the years, HEDWIG has played the UK a number of times, including tours and multiple stops at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Following the announcement of the closing of the Broadway production, there were rumors that the show was eyeing another West End run, but no official announcement has been made despite ongoing speculation.
The show has had multiple international productions, including runs in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey, and Brazil, as well as the Atrocity Tour's Italian production.
The Mexico production, which premiered in April 2011, was performed simultaneously in English and Spanish. It was also staged as a special event at the 2011 Guanajuato Film Festival, where it won the Best of San Miguel Theatre Award for 2011.
The Brazilian production, which premiered in Rio de Janeiro in August 2010, was the first to have two actors simultaneously playing the role of Hedwig.
Mitchell in the 2001 HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH Movie:
OTHER U.S. PRODUCTIONS
There have been several other major productions of the show in the United States between the Off-Broadway run and first Broadway production, including a run at the Signature Theatre during the 2001-2002 season, and an entirely-Spanish production performed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the summer of 2010.
Another notable production took place at San Francisco's Boxcar Theatre during the summer of 2012 and featured 12 actors of various genders and ethnicities in the role of Hedwig, each performing a different musical number and representing star at a different stage in the story. The theatre did a revival of the same production in the winter of 2012, this time starring only 8 actors.
ORIGINAL BROADWAY PRODUCTION
The production won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. While this was the show's original run on Broadway, the Tony Administration Committee ruled that it would be considered a revival due to its place in "popular repertoire."
Harris, who stayed in the production until August 17, 2014, won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, and was followed by Andrew Rannells, who had played the role years before in a regional production. Hedwig was then played by Michael C. Hall, original creator John Cameron Mitchell, Darren Criss, and Taye Diggs. The role of Hedwig did not have an understudy.
Hall won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and played the role of Yitzhak until April 4, 2015. She was replaced by Rebecca Naomi Jones, who played the role until the production closed. Shannon Conley served as the understudy for both women.
The band of the show was played by real-life, Hedwig-inspired band the Tits of Clay (the name being a reference to a lyric from the show), and featured Matt Duncan as Jacek, Justin Craig as Skszp, Tim Mislock as Krzyzhtoff, and Peter Yanowitz as Schlatko.
The production closed on September 13, 2015, after 22 previews and 507 regular performances.
The production was one that encouraged repeat visits, both because of the improvisational and ad-libbed nature of certain parts of the show, and the cast changes that could impact major parts of the viewing experience.
As someone who saw it seven times, no show was ever the same, and some shows, such as John Cameron Mitchell's final night in the role, and the production's closing performance, seemed to explode with energy; Mitchell's final night began with a four-minute standing ovation after the opening number, and that night, fans waited outside the stage door for over two hours, singing through the cast recording as they waited for Mitchell and others to come outside.
The closing night of the production was similar; every song was followed by a standing ovation, and the general "rules" of a Broadway show seemed to be ignored for the night, with the show feeling more like an actual concert, complete with the audience singing along to songs.
The show's curtain call saw the return of previous stars Lena Hall, Darren Criss, and Neil Patrick Harris, and to end it all, Stephen Trask led the audience in a sing-along of the song "Wig in a Box."
Following the closing night was a previously-scheduled gig by the Tits of Clay. Much of the audience for the final performance went to their show afterwards, which featured surprise performances by Lena Hall, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Darren Criss, Shannon Conley, and Michael C. Hall.
FIRST NATIONAL TOUR
The national tour of the 2014 Broadway production launched at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre on October 4, 2016. It initially starred Broadway Hedwig Darren Criss and Tony-winning Yitzhak, Lena Hall. Both are Bay-area natives, so the extended tour-stop was a bit of a homecoming.
Hall made history when she took on the role of Hedwig once a week (Yitzhak was played by understudy/alternate Shannon Conley). Hall became the first actress to play both Hedwig and Yitzhak in the same production. Hall and Criss left the production together on November 27, 2016, after the show's stop in San Diego.
I was lucky enough to see both Criss and Hall in the role, having missed Criss on Broadway - several friends and I travelled to San Francisco for five days, seeing the show three times. We ran into several other fans who were doing the same thing, proving that even though the show had closed, many of the fans were still in love with it and willing to travel to see it even one more time.
My friends and I later arranged a last-minute, whirlwind trip to see Lena Hall in the role in Los Angeles, staying in the city for six hours - barely long enough to see the show and get back and forth from the airport. However, to see Hall in the role was more than worth it.
The production was nominated for two Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for the performances of Criss and Hall.
From November 29, 2016 to July 2, 2017, Euan Morton played the role of Hedwig, and Hannah Corneau starred as Yitzhak. Shannon Conley continued to stay on as the understudy and alternate for Yitzhak, and Mason Alexander Park served as an understudy/
alternate for the role of Hedwig.
The roles of the band members were again played by the Tits of Clay. The tour closed on July 2, 2017, playing its final stop at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.