Go Hedwig or Go Home: Gender-bending rock musical hits Philly

Go Hedwig or Go Home: Gender-bending rock musical hits Philly

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Groundbreaking rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” returns to Philadelphia April 18-23 at the Forrest Theater.

Adapted from a book written by John Cameron Mitchell and featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, the show breaks the fourth wall as it tells the story of the fictional titular rock band fronted by transgender East German singer Hedwig Robinson. The band follows successful rock star Tommy Gnosis and his tour around the country, playing dive bars and other seedy venues next door to his massive rock concerts.

The musical quickly became a cultural phenomenon after it debuted in 1998, with Mitchell starring as Hedwig in the show’s Off-Broadway run and the subsequent 2001 film based on the production. “Hedwig” has gone on to numerous international productions, and the titular role has been performed on Broadway by high-profile stars like Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall and Taye Diggs.

Tony Award-winning Scottish actor Euan Morton plays Hedwig in the current national touring production. He said he wasn’t too familiar with the show but knew of its reputations among theatergoers.

“I had never actually seen it until I was cast,” he explained. “I knew everybody else was a big fan of the show and it was really something special.”

Morton quickly found out that fans of Hedwig can be a dedicated and passionate lot.

“We have people that are following the tour,” he said. “And this is not a tour that is going from one state to another that is right next to it: We’re going from Texas to North Carolina to Philadelphia and Boston. And people are following. We’ve had people who have seen the show up to 85 times. We certainly have garnered our fair share of stalwart fans.”

This isn’t the first time Morton has played an electrifying gender-bending rock singer on stage; he previously took on the role of Boy George in the West End musical “Taboo.” Morton said that while there are surface similarities between Boy George and Hedwig, the two are completely different.

“They’re not from the same world,” he said. “The similarities between the two are what it does for the audience. When you put on the Boy George make-up, the Boy George costume and the Boy George wig, people see Boy George and so they believe you. It’s the same with Hedwig. They see that person. So it’s actually far easier to embody roles like George and Hedwig because the audience is doing the work for you. But music-wise, show-wise and character-wise, they’re completely different.”

Morton said that he, like most actors cast in the role of Hedwig, was encouraged to go with the spirit and the flow of the character instead of putting his own personality into the role.

“John [Cameron Mitchell] was pretty insistent that we let Hedwig be who she is without anyone getting in the way and try interpreting the role,” he said. “For me, she kind of takes over. It’s one of the better things that I’ve done in my career because I am more able to allow the character to be a complete person. Even when things go wrong, you’re not reacting as the actor. You’re reacting as she would to things going wrong. It’s quite liberating.”

Morton added that while Hedwig is a very unique character, there is something about her life and struggles that is inspirational, and allows her to connect with people from all walks of life.

“She’s so bold and brazen,” he said. “She’s determined to be herself. And yet she doesn’t find out who that is until the end. She’s a regular, everyday human being in search of herself and what love is and learning to be loved. She’s very unique in who she is, what she looks like and where she’s from. It’s great that people see in her someone they can relate to. That’s what draws them to the show. She just captures the world in which many people would love to live.”

People also seem to strongly connect with the character of Yitzhak, Hedwig’s long-suffering assistant, husband and back-up singer.

“Yitzhak elicits the same response from the audience,” Morton said. “He’s the other side of the coin. He’s a man who used to have passion and a dream but gave it up to be with this girl and puts up with her abuse, but also works really hard. He’s really the rock, the thing on which her show is built. Hannah [Corneau] plays the role so beautifully. She brings her own brand of humor to it.”

Morton said touring with “Hedwig” feels like the being on the road with a rock band because every night is basically a high-energy rock concert, as well as a musical.

“It’s wild and amazing,” he said. “It’s a very meta-world when you are on tour. We are moving every week following Tommy around the country like she is. It’s this whole other meta-rock-show world going on. I’m really lucky to be playing Hedwig on the tour. It’s fascinating to take this show out into the country. This is probably the most challenging thing that I’ve done because it has all the physical and technical aspects of being the one person doing the running and singing and the dancing and the costumes for an hour and 45 minutes. Of course, there is an amazing band behind us; it’s the same band that played for Neil Patrick Harris’ entire run. And you’re telling an emotional tale that can really take it out of you. It’s challenging and you really have to look out for yourself.”

And he has to do all of this in stacked platform boots.

But for Morton, the learning curve was mercifully short.

“It didn’t take long because of [Boy] George,” he said. “I had done that before. It’s not easy dancing in them, I’ll tell you that much. My knees are still killing me. They do have an effect on the body. Getting them on and tottering around was fine. But after three-and-a-half months of it, they do wear on the body.”

Broadway Philadelphia presents “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” April 18-23 at Kimmel’s Academy of Music, 250 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, call 215-790-5800 or visit http://hedwigbroadway.com/.    

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