You love Neil Patrick Harris. It doesn't matter what you know him from — How I Met Your Mother, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, or Doogie Howser, M.D. — you love him. But you've certainly never seen him like this. 40-year-old Harris is currently starring on Broadway in a revival of Hedwig And The Angry Inch , which has earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. He's got some stiff competition in the category: he's up against a reformed convict (Ramin Karimloo, Les Misérables), an underdog boxer (Andy Karl, Rocky), a nefarious murderer, and his eight victims (Bryce Pinkham and Jefferson Mays, both of A Gentleman's Guide To Love & Murder). But who is Hedwig? And what's up with the titular angry inch?
Hedwig is a rock musical written by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. It premiered off-Broadway on February 14, 1998, and has since been performed all around the world, in places as far-flung as Puerto Rico and Prague. But this is the musical's first time on a Broadway stage, and Harris' star-power is finally bringing some well-deserved wider recognition to this powerful show.
Hedwig tells the story of Hansel, a young German boy obsessed with philosophy and rock music, who's stuck in East Berlin. He finds his ticket out when he meets and falls in love with an American soldier named Luther Robinson. Luther agrees to marry Hansel to help him escape Germany, but first Hansel has to undergo a sex change in order to pass as a woman. Unfortunately, the doctor botches Hansel's operation, and he's left with a useless one-inch-long piece of flesh between his legs. Hansel adopts his mother's name, Hedwig, and flees Europe with Luther. One year later, Luther leaves Hedwig for a man, and on the same day Hedwig learns that the Berlin Wall has fallen, rendering his torturous escape moot.
Hedwig then falls in love with a shy teenager named Tommy. Their relationship inspires her to write beautiful music. But Tommy ends up leaving her as well, stealing her music, and using it to become a wildly successful rockstar. Hedwig is reduced to supporting herself by playing coffee shops and strip malls, but ultimately she realizes that her soulmate, the other half of herself she's been looking for her whole life, is really inside herself.
Oof dah. Not exactly your average everyday feel-good, toe-tapping musical, huh? While the plot may be a bit of a downer, the show possesses many universals themes like love, gender, identity, reliance, independence, and self-respect that make Hedwig a surprisingly cathartic show to experience.
Since not all of us are geographically fortunate enough to live in New York City or financially secure enough to shell out for a Broadway musical, chances of seeing Harris' Hedwig in person are sadly slim. But there are a couple of ways you can experience a taste. First of all, Harris will be performing a song from the show live during the Tony Awards, so tune in to see the star in action. Secondly, Hedwig was turned into a film in 2001 directed by and starring the writer himself, John Cameron Mitchell. The film version received extremely positive reviews along with extremely low box office returns, but it has developed a cult following similar to that of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the years since its release.
While you're waiting for the Tony Awards to start this Sunday night, check out this song from Hedwig the movie, "The Origin Of Love," arguably the show's most famous tune:
Images: The Shubert Organization (3)