Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Interview: Matthew Alvin Brown and Jared Blount on the Enduring Power of HEDWIG

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH celebrates 23 years since its Off-Broadway premeire on February 14th. Broadway World has an exclusive interview with OKC's Hedwigs.

BWW Interview: Matthew Alvin Brown and Jared Blount on the Enduring Power of HEDWIG

John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's 90's era sleeper hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a cult-classic musical-comedy drag-rock force. If you've ever read any Hedwig-related article by me, and there are many, you know the unending devotion and ultimate bias I have for this character and story. But truly, I'm not alone. Hedwig soon celebrates the 23-year anniversary of its off-Broadway run, which premiered at New York City's Jane Street Theatre* on Valentines' Day in 1998.

*Author's Note: The Jane Street Theatre also premiered the lesser-known work of RENT playwright Jonathan Larson, tick, tick... Boom!, in 2001, before being renovated into a "boutique hotel", ruining its once sure chance for an enduring place in rock 'n roll history.

Mitchell co-wrote and starred in the semi-autobiographical drag show, turned full-on musical, turned 2001 movie. Mitchell still tours the world (when there are no pandemics afoot) as an older, gray-haired Hedwig, and the devoted Hed-Heads have made that tour a massive success- something Hedwig herself would never have experienced.

Hedwig didn't fall on my radar until 2014, when Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) starred in the revival, this time on Broadway, at the Belasco Theatre. Harris brought Hedwig into the mainstream, even performing a number from the show on the Tony Awards, and earning it the win for Best Revival. My understanding of Hedwig was limited at first. But NPH had me at "rock musical" and I just knew I had to see it.

Local Hedwig legend Matthew Alvin Brown brought the show to Oklahoma City after seeing the off-Broadway production at the Jane Street Theatre. For twenty years and dozens of productions (nobody can remember exactly how many), Brown has created a special following of Hed-Heads in Oklahoma City. Around ten years ago, Renee Anderson joined as Brown's on-stage husband Yitzhak, and the duo have been OKC's only Hed and Yitz since.

Until 2017, that is, when the production of Hedwig at The Pollard Theatre in Guthrie brought a passing of the torch of sorts. The show was, for the first time in OKC, double cast. Brown and Anderson performed alternately with Jared Blount and Beth Lipton. Blount became only the second person to play Hedwig in Oklahoma City.

This production was my chance to finally see Hedwig. It also became my introduction to the intricate theatre community in Oklahoma City. Yes, I saw both casts, and no, you can't ask me to pick a favorite. Both casts had their own kind of chemistry. Both Hedwigs had their own anger, pain, and heartache. Both ripped your heart out and rocked your face off, so both did their jobs effectively.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch so immediately changed my life, I was a different person when I got out of the chair that October night than I was when I sat down in it. Hedwig ultimately made me a writer. I sought to find out more about this character and about theatre itself. It made a casual, "once or twice a year" theatre patron into a die-hard theatre critic and avid fan of live theatre.

I also sought to find her match. "Surely", I thought, "there are other shows like this"? And while I do think that everyone has their own theatrical production that changes their life, or inspires them to do more, I still believe Hedwig stands alone. Her creators say she's a Gender of One. She's also a Show of One. With Hedwig, there's simply no equivalent.

For all my searching- I've been a guest on the Hedwig movie podcast, I've watched the stage show both live and illegally on YouTube more times than I can recall. I have the script entirely memorized. I was even "car-washed" by John Cameron Mitchell himself during the Hedwig: Origin of Love tour stop in Austin, TX. Yet, there is something about Hedwig that still cannot be confined to logic. That indefinable quality that keeps her fans reaching for her is just barely past what can be grasped. This is the mark of true art. Because there's talent, and there's work, but real art takes magic, too.

To further break down this character, and to explore what exactly makes her so enduring, Brown and Blount agreed to an interview with their number one fan (me). Read below as I pick their brains to find out their thoughts and experience with our favorite strange Rock 'N Roller.

BWW: What does Hedwig mean to you? What do you think makes this character so enduring, even twenty years later?

Matthew Alvin Brown: Hedwig is one of those rare characters that I fell in love with immediately. When I first saw the show at the Jane Street, I was absolutely attracted to her in every way. I was attracted to her energy, her command of the audience, her sense of humor, and her beautiful, tragic breakdown and rebirth. I was jealous of the performer underneath the wig. I thought, "What a trip it must be to hold all of these people in your hand like this." It was actual rock music, played loud in a decidedly non-Broadway setting. She was messy, mean, hilarious and badass. Hedwig changed everything for me. Every single thing. Hedwig took the rock musical and completely made it valid. It was unreal.

BWW: What have you learned or how did your thoughts change about gender identity after playing this character?

MAB: Well, rock-n-roll has a long history of exploring ideas of gender. Bowie, Lou Reed, New York Dolls... And I grew up with all of those records. I connected to those artists at a pretty young age. And Rocky Horror as well. All of that was ingrained in me early on. It was always very interesting to me and I was very deeply drawn to it. I'm sure in some way, playing Hedwig has allowed me to fully embrace that side of myself. Had I not played her for so long, perhaps it wouldn't be as present on my mind as it has been for the last 20 years. If I were in my teens or twenties, I would probably consider myself non-binary, truly. But, at 43, I'm not concerned with a label. I think playing the role has ushered me into some deep empathy and understanding for others as well as for myself.

Hedwig's situation is a little complicated. Her surgery was a means to an end. And when her new life falls apart, she feels pretty low. So, at her lowest point, out of desperation, disappointment and anger, she picks herself up and makes herself into an unapologetic punk-rock queen. "Hansel, the slip of a girly boy", would have never become "Hedwig the Punk Rock Star of stage and screen", without that desperate need to escape. To be free, she has to leave something behind.

I think that aspect makes Hedwig a little more complicated to analyze from a gender perspective. But, I think Hedwig has certainly opened up the conversation. She's sort of becoming a part of culture now, like mainstream, accepted culture. I think that's pretty cool.

BWW: What is your favorite Hedwig quote and why?

MAB: My favorite Hedwig quote is "...Anne Murray. Who was actually a Canadian working in the American idiom... and David Bowie, who was actually an idiom working in America and Canada." It's a great line, but it also lets me know what kind of audience I'll be dealing with. If they get it, I know they'll probably get the rest of the references. If not... you got work to do.

BWW: Hedwig grows up with an idealized view of America. What do you think Hedwig would think of the United States if she came here now, in 2021?

MAB: I think Hedwig would have gone back to Germany about 4 years ago. Everything going on in this nation is so disgusting and sad. Hedwig wouldn't put up with that again. She already left an oppressive regime. I can't imagine she would suffer another round of that nonsense. She'd have some pretty vicious jokes, I'm sure.

I think she would wear a fucking outrageous facemask, however.

BWW: What do you love about Hedwig? Is she the most complex character you've ever played?

Jared Blount: My god, what's not to love about Hedwig? She's fierce. She's raw. She's the quintessential powerhouse alternative to every feminine or masculine stage presence. I love that she's an unrelenting bitch. It makes her honest. She's just an honest character. But yes, she is certainly the most complex character I've ever played- and I was so honored and grateful to have Matt Brown give me such a seasoned insight into her pain. It was almost an overwhelming task, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Feeling the feelings I had on stage as Hedwig was like performing an ugly-cry for an hour and a half, and then translating it into something digestible. I want to do it again just so I can throw another rock n' roll tantrum - with Matt's blessing, of course. I could never play Hedwig without asking my Hedwig's permission.

BWW: Did Hedwig change you as a performer? What qualities about her have you carried with you in other projects?

JB: Hedwig changed me completely. I remember the notions and ideas of who I thought I was as a performer slowly start to melt into complete self-consciousness as I began breathing that character. I was walking two miles a day in heels, and shaving my legs, and painting my nails - just attempting to move and feel like her. And after the first few days, I was coming home and saying to myself, "I can't do this. I have no idea what I'm doing." I remember expressing those feelings to Matt and Jerome (Stevenson, production co-director and Pollard Theatre Artistic Director) and them reminding me that Hedwig felt the same way; those exact apprehensions and fears are literally dictated in the show- they're songs for fuck sake.

So I learned a lot about my process, and how to trust my instincts as an actor (and the instincts of my stage directors and partners) and more importantly, to trust the material. If you trust the material and work towards playing the character with absolute commitment and truth, you've done the part justice. And then off stage, I tuned in quite a bit more with myself both physically and emotionally. I'm not sure I ever really had before. Fully embodying a character that struggles with their identity makes you start to appreciate your own. Or even not having one.

BWW: Why do you think Hedwig has stayed so relevant, and arguably, is even more relevant today?

JB: I think she's stayed relevant because everyone can identify with her in some way. Sure, the story is dated and the particular set of circumstances are more likely wildly different than anyone has ever experienced, but the pain and outrage that she suffers, and the idea of losing yourself to please the world, or another person, is almost universal. Everyone at some point in their lives has lost something important and blamed that loss on someone, whether it be themselves or someone else. The only reason you don't hate her entirely is because it's not her fault. Her only fault is not being able to let go.

And the audience gets to follow that journey, and experience that anger, and jealousy, and hatred- and then watch her forgive. And that experience is healing. The audience gets to remind themselves that it's normal to feel betrayal and loss. It's more uplifting to be reminded that you can make it through it. It's literally a whole show of, "If she can do it, I can do it."

BWW: Hedwig is so unique and yet universally loved. What do you think makes her so relatable as a character?

JB: Hedwig will always be unique. She's the first of her kind. To me, she's the glittery Jack Skellington of the music theatre world. I would listen to 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' before going on stage. She embodies that spirit of being different. She's the antihero people didn't know they needed. When I saw the movie, I was interested in her story. And when I saw Matt and Renee perform it in Oklahoma City, I was interested in her. I wanted to know HER. The interpretation of that spirit and human connection is what I latched onto. That's what Hedwig is. A raucous, bitter, angry, but true representation of the human spirit.

To read my review of Hedwig: The Origin of Love Tour, click here.

To read my interview with the host of the podcast Hedwig: Inch by Angry Inch, click here.

To read my review of the Riverdale Hedwig-themed tribute episode "Wicked Little Town", click here.

To follow performers and fellow Hed-Heads Jared Blount and Matthew Alvin Brown, visit lyrictheatreokc.com and thepollard.org.

Rock on, Strange Rock 'N Rollers!


Featured at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More
Branded Broadway Merch

Related Articles View More Oklahoma Stories

From This Author Adrienne Proctor