PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Hedwig and the Angry Inch — Neil in Heels

By Harry Haun
23 Apr 2014

Lena Hall
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"It was very, very early in its development. For instance, there was no character of Yitzhak. There were cover songs that we had. The journey was very similar but a little sketchier. It felt more like a downtown experimental kind of thing. It wasn't the finished product that it became. When they did it downtown — when they had the finished production — they polished it up, and there was much more to it. And it had a full score. But that's not when I was attached to it because I was doing Triumph of Love — the first — so to come back to Hedwig all these years later when it's a beautiful piece of work and to be able to bring it up to the minute in a big beautiful Broadway theatre like the Belasco has been a real thrill."

Stephen Trask's songs created cult converts to the shows, Sight Unseen — fans who got hooked on the movie soundtrack or the original cast recording. "I think some of them who are coming to the show for the first time — some of them may be thinking, 'What a fantastic staging of the movie,' as opposed to realizing it's actually the other way around. They're thinking, 'How did they come up staging the movie like that?'"

Basically, the score hasn't changed any, save for the Hurt Locker musical parody, he said. "I think things were added and taken away but I think in the end you're in the same place emotionally. And, despite what it looks like at the Belasco, Hedwig is a very fine way of making you feel the Belasco is not the greatest Broadway house to be in — even though it is a fantastic place. Well, Broadway adjacent — and that's enough. We don't have to have junkies O.D.-ing upstairs like we did at the Jane Street Theatre. It still feels real and raw. I think what's different is you have to work a bigger room, but it doesn't really feel that different, otherwise."

Gender-bending a little more, there's Yitzhak, Hedwig's very opposite number — his much-abused bandleader and husband who is always played by a woman.

Here, Lena Hall does the honors. "I saw it at Jane Street back in 1999 with my sister, and we had a religious experience that was so amusing," she recalled. "I bought the cast album a million times, all those different formats. It's been the soundtrack of my mind for so long. So when I heard it was coming to Broadway, I was just like 'I have to be seen. I just have to get in that door.'"

She did get seen, and it got her the part, which she took very seriously. "I did a lot of research on men, just how they stood and how they acted and facial things. You kinda lose yourself when you're in a role. You really lose your facial expressions. You're not really clocking that, but to be a man, I have to be so hyper-aware of everything going on in my body from my facial expressions all the way down to my toes. One wrong move, and it totally gives you away. I did a lot of study on me and how men react with their eyes, how they walked and how they stood. She is so sad and depressed inside but also extremely hopeful. I felt, like, the big shoulders and kinda the hunched-over — it really kinda sold that, but then looking up you can see the hope in her eyes. I really love this character."

Both stars were started by a backstage visit from Yoko Ono, who even ran through the press line singing their praises and the play's: "Oh, I think they were fantastic performers. Everything was spot-on. The music was good. The lyrics were good. Of course, the story — in the end, when it turns around — it just makes you think. This makes you cry."