She’s a gutsy, funny, raunchy, flamboyant, emotionally raw, in-your-face—sometimes literally—self-described “internationally ignored song stylist” who has nonetheless conquered the world. Now she’s touring the country with her band, telling her remarkable, hard-luck tale of survival through rock songs and story.
“She” is Hedwig, the genderqueer creation of John Cameron Mitchell (book) and Stephen Trask (score), who introduced her to Off-Broadway audiences in 1998, when Mitchell starred in the world premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The show has since been produced all over the world, and made it to Broadway in 2014, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The first national tour ended July 2, and starred Euan Morton as Hedwig—who grew up male in East Berlin and as the result of a botched sex-change operation, is now left with that angry inch—and Hannah Corneau as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband. They were accompanied by the onstage band, The Angry Inch. The tour, like the Broadway production, was directed by Michael Mayer.
Watching audiences embrace the gender-bending, sometimes shocking Hedwig in these divisive times was particularly gratifying to Morton. “I feel very lucky to be playing her at this moment,” he says. “As a human being, she’s no different from the rest of us. Ultimately, the message of the show is that we’re not different, and that’s an important message in the country today. What makes us different is how we present who we are, not what we feel. And she’s trying to find a place where she can strip herself down so that she doesn’t need to present her emotions. She can simply live them. Hopefully, that’s what the audience takes away.”
There is basically no fourth wall in the show, and Mitchell and Trask leave room for some ad-libbing, so long as it’s consistent with the piece. Morton says he mostly tried to stay clear of current politics, but he allowed some of it to seep in. “Outside of a few moments, I’m avoiding adding overt references to modern American politics, because the truth is, the show is already political. The script was political 20 years ago; John was way ahead of his time.”
Audience response, in cities as diverse as Denver, Durham, and Dallas, was overwhelmingly positive. “Hedwig touches people, including myself, in ways one wouldn’t necessarily imagine,” says Morton. “The audience in Dallas was unbelievable, and I admit I was shocked by the reception. When things like that happen, Hedwig says to me as we come off the stage, ‘You’re judging a book by its cover.’ So I’m learning from her.”