Hedwig is something else.
This rock musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, which premiered off-Broadway at the Jane Street Theatre in 1998, opened on Broadway for the first time last season. The production, which starred Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”), who won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, also won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, defeating the aforementioned production of Les Mis and a critically-acclaimed production of Violet, starring Sutton Foster.
The show itself makes the avid theatregoer question what is and what isn’t “Broadway” material. It is, essentially, a rock concert, in which Hedwig, the “internationally ignored” transgender East German rock star, performs her hits, while sharing her life story with the audience. She is accompanied by her band, The Angry Inch (a reference to her botched sex-change operation), and her husband Yitzhak, a Croatian drag queen from Zagreb. This production, currently playing at the Belasco Theatre, features copious amounts of strobe lighting, deafening guitar solos and catchy punk/glam rock songs belted by Hedwig, all of which makes for an incredibly entertaining evening of theatre.
Many assumed that more productions of this nature couldn’t make it on Broadway, that they were too avant-garde for the typical Broadway audience of tourists and families from the suburbs. But, productions like Hedwig give fans of experimental theatre hope. These kinds of shows, done in a certain way, can find commercial success.
This is not to suggest that any off-Broadway type show can make it on Broadway — it took Hedwig 16 years. Small theatres in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn will always be the hub of the odd, off-the-wall, experimental theatre community in New York.
But, it is very exciting to see a show like this finally find mainstream commercial acceptance and success. This season, off-Broadway hits Hand to God and Fun Home will try to find success on the Great White Way (although it didn’t take 16 years for these to get to Broadway—both played off-Broadway last year). Although it is still an uphill battle for most off-Broadway shows to find success on Broadway, opening in Midtown is an accomplishment in it of itself.
Hedwig, however, is still going strong and stars co-creator John Cameron Mitchell, who originated the role, until April 26 when “Glee” star Darren Criss takes over. One thing’s for sure, now that she’s rocking Broadway seven shows a week, you can’t “tear her down.”