“Is this ridiculous?” I ask the fellow fan next to me, referring to the rose I’m holding for the show’s star.
“Nope,” she says.
She gets it. We’re Hedheads, and we’re here getting frostbite for the same reason: to see the queen. John Cameron Mitchell, the co-creator and current star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is due to exit the Belasco Theatre stage door any minute.
Diehard fans and critics alike are practically yelling at you to go see this show before his run ends on April 26—and with good reason. Seeing him perform is pure magic, at once vulnerable and sardonic, witty and sexy. He is so genuine and raw on stage that distinguishing new jokes from improvised quips is next to impossible in one viewing. (“You’re seeing the original cast,” referring to Mitchell’s/Hedwig’s knee brace, is my new favorite.) But there’s more to Mitchell’s Hedwig than his brilliantly moving and funny performance and Stephen Trask’s phenomenal music. There’s a reason some fans are crossing continents to see him do this.
I’ve attempted to explain the significance of the queen’s return to people who know nothing about the show: This is different than any other actor playing Hedwig because when you watch the others, you’re watching a performance; when you see Mitchell, you’re seeing Hedwig, the character, in real life. It’s as if the 2001 film was a documentary and now you’re going to a real, live Hedwig and the Angry Inch concert.
For those unfamiliar, the musical is less a traditional play and more a rock concert with monologues in between songs. An overarching theme about the search for one’s missing “other half” is beautifully woven into both the lyrics and Hedwig’s tragicomic backstory. Somewhat paradoxically, watching Mitchell play Hedwig almost undermines the show’s closing message of finding wholeness within oneself, because fans leave feeling like we’ve found our other half—right there, on stage, spitting on us and shouting in German.
The knee brace Mitchell is sporting is starkly apropos, becoming another sad-yet-humorous aspect of Hedwig’s story. Although the sight of it tugs the heartstrings, one of the best things about the brace might be the way it further blurs the line between Mitchell and Hedwig—in a way, she’s realer than she’s ever been.
Basking in the glow of his inimitable performance, I’ve never been happier to freeze my toes off.
John Cameron Mitchell can be seen through April 26th at the Belasco Theatre with Darren Criss scheduled to take over Hedwig on April 29th.