Why 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' might be the greatest testament to rock ever created

The John Cameron Mitchell-led musical debuted off-Broadway in 1998.
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The first bit you need to know if you don't know much about the fantastic musical that is Hedwig and the Angry Inch is that the show is deeply biopic. But not likely in the way you might assume. The lead character is Hedwig - the title alone gives that away - but the original idea for the show wasn't to have Hedwig as the lead but a character named Tommy.

Tommy was based on John Cameron Mitchell who conceived the idea of Hedwig. But Hedwig was based on Mitchell's babysitter when he was a teenager. The character of Tommy was based on Mitchell himself. But Mitchell, along with lyricist and musician Stephen Trask, decided to remake the musical in the image of Hedwig.

The character of Hedwig is genderqueer, per Mitchell, and the musical follows Hedwig from growing up in East Germany, meeting a U.S. soldier, having to go through surgery to remove a part of them, and then being moved to the United States before being left by the U.S. soldier. Along the way Hedwig finds their own way through music and their original innocence become something of greater awareness.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is must-see in any form

The musical is touching, funny, sometimes silly, and poignant. But through all of it, the incredible music carries the show. There is unlikely any show that ever existed quite like Hedwing and the Angry Inch. Nor should there be, truly. The musical is perfect in nearly every sense.

There are different ways a company could perform Hedwig. The way the show was written and developed was to have Hedwig and a backing band and one other main character, Yitzhak. Tommy never materializes in a stage performance and never needs to. The idea of Tommy and what he represents is enough. Therefore, live shows, are a bit different from the movie featuring Mitchell that came out in 2001.

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the film. The film, because of its medium, simply fleshes out the characters a bit more and one sees the character of Tommy. In fact, Mitchell and company do a fantastic job of making the Tommy character an important role, even though that doesn't happen on stage.

But the music is brilliant in any form. "Tear Me Down" opens the show and is a straight rocker. "Origin of Love" might likely be the best second song on an album ever. The track is beautiful with a theme that stretches through the show and makes one aware of how easy gender-fluidity can be. "Angry Inch" is the third song and full of rage. This is a punk rock record on a Broadway stage.

The closer of the show is "Midnight Radio" which borrows heavily from David Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Having said that, great artists steal and not borrow, so if you hear Bowie in "Midnight Radio" it is by design.

Over the years there have been several editions of Hedwig. The show finally was performed on Broadway, instead of off-Broadway, in 2014. Neil Patrick Harris played Hedwig with Mitchell's blessing. I saw the show when it opened and Harris was fantastic. If you can, seeing Hedwig and the Angry Inch is best live and on stage. You will feel like you are at a punk show. But either way, watch the film or see the show on stage and you will not be disappointed.

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