A long-running hit in New York doth not a West Coast smash make.
That may be the lesson of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a cult find turned mainstream hit at off-Broadway's Jane Street Theatre that expected to have the same success in Hollywood.
However, the L.A. production, which has David Bowie on board as associate producer, opened Oct. 22 and will close Dec. 19, much earlier than anticipated. According to the Los Angeles Times, the producers will lose their entire $600,000 investment.
The L.A. Times quoted co-producer Joan Stein as saying, "if this city had any theater moxie, it would have carried [star Michael Cerveris] through the streets on silk pillows." 200 fans of the show reportedly signed a petition to keep the show going, but the finances just didn't work out. Stein noted that filling the 499 seats of the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood wasn't so much the problem as was getting a promotional push. "We could have existed [filling] only 50 percent of the seats at each performance."
The New York production is, like many shows, offering discounts during the difficult winter season (some $19.95 seats are available at all performances) but the show is expected to continue when current Hedwig Ally Sheedy leaves in late January. Sheedy made her official debut as Hedwig Oct. 13, after starting previews Sept. 20. She starred in such mid-80s teen comedies as "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire." Her career was long on the down side, however, when the 1998 art film "High Art" brought her back into the public eye. In that movie, Sheedy played a lesbian, drug-addled, has-been photographer. Sheedy, who received mixed notices, is the first female to play the part of the tortured German transsexual rocker. To date, only male actors have filled the role: the show's creator John Cameron Mitchell, Cerveris (Tommy) and Kevin Cahoon.
During Sheedy's run, rocker and sometime actor (and full-time son of pop star Donovan) Donovan Leitch is playing the role on Wednesdays. Leitch is the lead singer of the group Nancy Boy. Leitch's father, the single-named Donovan, made his mark in the 60s with such pyschedelia- tinged hit songs as "Sunshine Superman" and "Mellow Yellow." As an actor, Leitch has appeared in the films "Gas, Food, Lodging" and "I Shot Andy Warhol."
Hedwig was written by its star, Mitchell (book), and Trask (music and lyrics). Leitch and Sheedy play the title singer, an obscure and tortured transsexual rock singer, who tells her darkly comic story while ostensibly performing a concert. The Angry Inch, her back-up band, is Trask's rock combo Cheater, a staple at such downtown New York clubs as CBGB's and Mercury Lounge. The musical has been playing at the Jane Street Theatre since Feb. 14, 1998. For tickets call (212) 239-6200.
-- By Robert Simonson and David Lefkowitz