“It is clear that I must find my other half. But is it a he or a she? …What does this person look like? Identical to me? Or somehow complementary?”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s 2014 Best Revival of a Musical Tony award winning story of trying to find one’s other half, trying to find one’s self, trying to find the origin of love as told by a gender-bending punk rock star from East Germany. “How did some…slip of a girly-boy from Communist East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you?” Hedwig, as played by the incredibly talented Euan Morton, nominated for a Tony for his role as Boy George in Taboo, spends the next 100 minutes telling her story through rock songs, multimedia projections, audience interaction, local references (Violet Hour! Wrigleyville! Soldier Field!), even a sing-a-long. The Oriental Theater (24 W Randolph Street) is transformed into a dive and we are transported into Hedwig’s world, which is at turns funny and ribald and irreverent and profane and heartbreaking and beautiful.
Hedwig starts life in East Berlin as Hansel, the beautiful son of an absent American GI father and a cold German mother. As a teenager in the 1980s, he can smell freedom…in the form of McDonald’s… from across the Berlin Wall and begins to yearn for what could be in another life, in another country. “The search for my other half on my side of The Wall had proved futile. Might he be found on the other side?” Soon he catches the eye of a US serviceman who falls hard for young Hansel and offers to marry him and bring him to America and make all of his dreams of freedom come true. The catch, of course, is that gay marriage is still years away from being legal anywhere. “To walk away, you gotta leave something behind,” says Hansel’s sugar daddy Corporal Luther Robinson. “To be free, one must give up a little part of oneself,” agrees Hansel’s mother. The solution becomes a wig and an appointment for gender reassignment surgery. The sex change operation gets botched, leaving only “the angry inch.” Herr Hansel Schmidt becomes Mrs. Hedwig Robinson and escapes East Germany by moving to the USA.
One year later, Hedwig is a divorced, penniless woman watching the Berlin Wall come down from her mobile home in Kansas. She is scraping by “with babysitting gigs and odd jobs—mostly the jobs we call ‘blow’.” She returns to her first love—her true love, music, and begins performing with other military wives. Hedwig then meets Tommy Speck, a small town boy. She teaches him about music and rock and roll and he grows into a rock god. They collaborate and seem to find love and success. She writes the songs and he starts singing back up for her, then duets. Teenage girls start to show up. He is as close to her elusive other half as she has been able to find in this life. “I am filled with an ancient clarity. He’s the one.” But Tommy is unable to accept Hedwig’s body—her front half—and he leaves. He goes on to become rock superstar Tommy Gnosis, who plays stadium concerts—songs written BY Hedwig— while Hedwig shadows him playing nearby dives.
Eventually, it becomes clear that Tommy is indeed Hedwig’s other half, both parts played by Morton. She finds through the music that she is both sides of her whole: Tommy AND Hedwig, and that it is enough.
I put on some make-up
And turn up the eight-track
I’m pulling the wig down from the shelf
Suddenly I’m this punk rock star
Of stage and screen
And I ain’t never
I’m never turning back.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is playing at the Oriental Theater (24 W Randolph Street) through March 19, 2017. One hour and 50 minutes, no intermission.