HEDWIG A BIG SURPRISE
I was not longing to see the current revival of Hedwig The Angry Inch, now on Broadway starring Neil Patrick Harris.
I’m not big on revivals to begin with. I have seen so much theatre in the original productions, I seldom feel compelled to see things again. Not that there are not revivals that surpass the premieres; but in the absolute, there is a lot to see in life and if you’ve seen the greats in great roles, why sit through it all over again?
I’m yet to see Book Of Mormon. I don’t really want to sit through yet another production of Guys and Dolls.
But I have children and I like them to see musical theatre standards. So I end up sitting through more revivals than I might choose.
I saw the original Hedwig in 1998. I could not imagine that (he will always be Doogie Howser to me) Neil Patrick Harris could in any way surpass the extraordinary performance by John Cameron Mitchell.
But I have a fourteen year old who is mad for Neil Patrick Harris. She had never even heard of Doogie Howser until I explained it to her the other day. She knows him from his hit show How I Met Your Mother.
He has turned into America’s favorite gay actor. Old women love him. My kids love him. What was I missing? The audience has loved him in Hedwig and he was awarded the Tony for his performance.
So I bought three tickets. Glenn stayed home and watched some world-class sporting event. I took the two girls.
Okay, I admit it, I was blown away. I am now a true Neil Patrick Harris groupie. I didn’t buy a T-shirt. But I did download the soundtrack. He was amazing. As amazing as anything or anyone I have seen on stage in memory. I have now totally forgotten about Doogie Howser M.D. .
Not all the reviewers have been kind. Many feel his lightness and sheer star power have swept some of the darker undertones of the piece under the carpet. And they are not entirely wrong.
The original was a much rawer production. It was performed in a downtown club that would have been the kind of fringe venue Hedwig would have been reduced to appearing in. That gave it an authenticity this lacked. This was a big bazooma, (I made up that word) balls out production. And Neil P. H is a big star. John Cameron Mitchell was an unknown who wrote the part for himself, based on his own life experiences. There was a seamlessness to his Hedwig. The production turned him into the flavor du jour.
But that being said, in terms of sheer entertainment and showmanship and audience – actor love, this Hedwig was hard to top.
While Neil Patrick Harris did not play the darkest beats of a transgender person, he gave a life and tenderness that was deeply appealing. He also sang his heart out, danced and lept around the stage like a rock star. He made you laugh and cry, he pretty much did everything you are supposed to do so an audience feels like their money was well spent.
This was as good as it gets for a certain type of theater. Sure there was less open your veins and bleed on the stage. The first made you cringe and that was the point. This one made you think, no question, but there were heartbeats that emanated from that stage that I have rarely felt in the theatre in forty years of obsessive theatre going.
Neil Patrick Harris did turn in the performance of such magnitude and love, love for the part, love for the fact he was getting to do it, love of his craft, anyone who has seen it will never forget it.
And when the show was over and the standing ovations ended, and they went on for a really long time, he stopped on his way out and turned to the audience, and just stood and smiled. It wasn’t narcissistic and obnoxious. It wasn’t a plea for more applause, more validation, it was a moment of actor to audience connection that was really about love. It was deeply powerful. I think everyone in the audience felt he was looking directly at them and thanking them for coming, acknowledging his appreciation for their appreciation. It was pure, it was genuine. It took something great and memorable and lifted it right into theatre history.
As we were walking home Taylor asked me if I thought she would ever see anything that good again. I told her life was long and hopefully that was not her peak experience. But in fifty years of theatre going, it was as good as anything I had seen.