Hedwig: stage vs. screen

It’s become clear to several of us recently that there are a lot of folks out there who only know of Hedwig and the Angry Inch as a film.  We’re getting a lot of questions like “I see Spencer and Amy are Hedwig and Yitzhak, but who is Luther/the Mom/Tommy?”and so on.

Then we explain: no one. Or, if you’d rather look at this way, Hedwig. That answer is usually followed by a confused look.

The film Hedwig and the Angry Inch was adapted from what was originally a show for the stage. A small stage at that. It developed out of an act that started in nightclubs, one of the reasons it’s a perfect fit for the Shimberg. It’s personally one of the things that makes me interested to see it play on Broadway next year in a theater with over 1,000 seats. The stage show as written pretty much demands a small, humble space.

The audience members at any given performance “play” an audience at a show (META!).  Hedwig, backed by The Angry Inch, performs a tiny venue while Tommy Gnosis plays an arena not far away. The creators of the show want theaters producing it to make it specific to where they are, in the original stage production those venues were the Hotel Riverview and Giants Stadium. We’re using the Off Center Theater at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and the Ice Palace (all names used in 1998, the year the show takes place).

Hedwig performs directly to the audience, there is no “fourth wall” separating them, telling us the story of how she got here between songs. The same story that fans of the film know full well. In the movie those monologues were mostly broken up into scenes using multiple characters, sometimes kept verbatim as voice-overs, and sometimes simply just shown to us in action rather than through words. At times during the stage show Hedwig inhabits other characters briefly as she revisits some of these memories (which many of us do to a degree when we tell stories). We’re even playing a bit with the idea of voices from the past, memories coming to life, in a few subtle ways that we think add to the experience.

It’s intimate — nowhere can we do the complete crazy costume changes from number to number like you can do in a movie, or have a single-wide trailer transform into a stage, or put a scene in a crater near the Berlin wall. The show is part cabaret, part rock concert, part confessional. Film can blow us away with spectacle but in the theater our strong suit is the intimate and immediate bond, the dialogic engagement, that hopefully connects performer and audience. Generally speaking one is not “better” than the other (though certainly individual taste varies), they’re just different.

Now, just like a book that’s been made into a film or a film that gets re-engineered into something else I know that some might not be able to get past what their first experience was (and anyone who’s watched the internet explode over Affleck’s casting as Batman should be aware of by now). Just as we have those songs we never want to hear anyone else dare cover or those texts we don’t ever want to see anyone else dare make two or three dimensional. Hell, there was a long time that I thought that no one else could ever, EVER play (nor should they even try!) to play Frank N. Furter after Tim Curry. Tom Hewitt eventually proved me wrong. 🙂

We can only ask those Hed-heads out there who have never been exposed to the stage show, or those who can’t see anyone other than Mitchell play this part, to come in with an open mind and with the forewarning as to what the stage version of Hedwig is (and isn’t). Amy’s Yitzhak and Spencer’s Hedwig are Spencer’s and Amy’s. We’ve not been holding ourselves to the characters as presented on screen in the film, or even the way that they were originally performed Off Broadway. And why would we when you can look either back up and just watch that? We’ve taken the text as just that – a text. A blueprint. Something to build from the ground up using a different perspective perhaps. Just as Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh and Ethan Hawke have all had their own Hamlets.

For the Hed-heads out there who are crazy-loyal to the stage version, we’ve even got some surprises in store for you that will hopefully give you at least one big SQUEE! moment.

And for the many of you out there who don’t fall into either camp, we look forward to giving you your first taste of this truly amazing show. This is a gorgeous, heartbreaking, hysterical, uplifting, universally HUMAN story that’s told in a way and using a musical genre that you just don’t see done often enough in the theater.

Can’t wait to share this with you all in another week and a half!



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