John Cameron Mitchell has a dream. In it, he wants to see his award-winning off-Broadway musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, performed in high schools. Never mind that it's about a post-op transvestite with dreams of rock stardom.
"I'd love to see it in high schools kids would definitely love it more than Oklahoma!" Mitchell said. "Hedwig's rock 'n' roll. And I think it helped revive the modern musical."
Mitchell has been pegged as a boy genius of sorts, having co-written (with composer Stephen Trask), directed and starred in Hedwig on stage, and again in the 2001 movie version, garnering himself an OBIE Award and the Drama League Award -- not bad for a guy who lived in Colorado Springs briefly as a child, attending Stratton Elementary.
Quickly reaching cult status, the rock musical will be performed locally at the club Darkside. Donning the pancake makeup and glittery fabulousness will be Brian Upton, who won critical acclaim and several awards in Denver for his performance as Hedwig.
The show features a young man from Berlin, who undergoes a botched sex change in order to come to America. Left with the aforementioned "angry inch," she (now dubbed Hedwig) finds herself living the not-quite American dream in a Kansas trailer park. After being unceremoniously dumped by rising star musician Tommy Gnosis, Hedwig decides to start her own rock band. In (The Who's) Tommy-like tradition, the audience learns of Hedwig's history and hopes through a series of ballads, all-out rock songs and witty banter. In all, it's a classic fairytale of one fella's journey into womanhood.
Such an original and convoluted story includes the type of details that shaped Mitchell's own childhood. Raised Catholic, his father was a military commander stationed in Berlin, all of which lent itself to the final product.
And what a product it is. With her German accent and classic drag hair and makeup, Hedwig sports a Ziggy Stardust-meets-Marlene Dietrich look.
The inspiration for Mitchell's leading sorta-lady was a babysitter he had while growing up. "Looking back, in retrospect, she was a prostitute," said Mitchell. "But we would sing for her and she'd give us beers. She was impressive, and was quite a visual inspiration."
Hedwig was developed in a drag rock club where Trask was working. The musical has now been performed all around the world, with Mitchell recommending that it be staged in clubs and rock venues instead of auditoriums.
"We wanted to keep it out of theaters, to preserve the rock 'n' roll aspect," he said. "Have you ever heard an electrical guitar in a theater? Horrible. The sound just dissolves."
Since the club they practiced in dictated that Mitchell couldn't practice there without appearing in drag, the show expanded to fit its environment.
Though an out gay actor, Mitchell had his misgivings about appearing in women's clothing. "I was afraid of doing drag -- for guys the worst thing you could be is like a girl; it's very scary to have a feminine side. So you don't acknowledge it, but when you squash your sexuality, weird things happen," he said.
In fact, he views performing the role of Hedwig, and of acting in general, as very cathartic. "When I was forced to go there for my art, it was extremely affecting -- I felt extremely feminine and extremely masculine. It was a union of the two. You can look at Hedwig as a negative, half-empty thing, but energy-wise, she has it all."
-- Kara Luger
Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Brian Upton
Darkside, 1206 Platte Ave. (just east of Union)
Friday-Sunday, through March 19, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $20; call 262-3232 or go to www.uccstheatreworks.com for more.
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