In his signature song, "Angry Inch," Hedwig barks, "My sex-change operation got botched/My guardian angel fell asleep on the watch/Now all I've got is a Barbie-doll crotch."
The fictional transsexual rocker emotes her way through Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a funny, clever, hard-rocking, satisfying musical that became an excellent film last year. This week, the students in a Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville gay/lesbian/transgender group become the first to stage Hedwig in our area.
The writer/actor/director of the film, John Cameron Mitchell, dreamed up the story of a young German man seduced by an American GI. Hansel is convinced to become Hedwig so he can officially marry the soldier ("To be free one must give up a little part of oneself," agrees Hansel's mom), and surgical horror ensues.
Hedwig comes to America, is abandoned by her man and takes up with Tommy, a teenager who's into classic and hard rock ("Boston, Kansas, America, Europe, Asia"). Their love is shattered when Tommy steals Hedwig's songs and lyrics and becomes a rock star. Hedwig, bitter and usually drunk, mounts a "stalker tour" that shadows Tommy's tour across the U.S. While Tommy plays huge venues such as Busch Stadium, Hedwig and the Angry Inch play to scant crowds of bewildered diners at a series of "Bilgewater's" family seafood restaurants.
Those familiar only with the movie version of Hedwig are in for a few surprises: The musical is a stripped-down affair, a simulated rock concert broken by occasional monologue from the title character. Hedwig and her band tell her story in song and spoken words, explains director Rhiannon Sharp, who consulted Mitchell himself for advice on mounting the show. The set and the props are minimal. ("I'm drinking through the whole thing," says Hal Scheppner, who plays Hedwig, "so my big prop is my Jack Daniel's bottle.") A series of slides and cartoons projected on a screen behind the band helps tell the story and make the experience more lyrical.
Of course, both film and musical feature that great music, which elevates Hedwig to the level of Rocky Horror or Jesus Christ Superstar -- it's a rock musical that actually manages to rock. Theatergoers get to enjoy punk, piano-driven hard-rock and a few nonsappy ballads. The SIUE kids will use a live band.
Hedwig wears a series of bizarre stage costumes, two fat slabs of glittery blue eye shadow and a huge, ungainly Farrah Fawcett wig. To create his own Hed-wig, Scheppner says, he found a wig and "used Velcro rollers and then Aqua-Netted the hell out of it." He says that that he also spoke to a few drag queens for pointers.
A big part of what makes the show such a treat are the hilarious monologues Mitchell wrote for Hedwig. The transsexual salutes the "crypto-homo rockers Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie" who influenced her. Later she rails against Tommy's plagiarism, moaning that "from this milkless tit you sucked the very business we call show."