He was born a boy named Hansel around 1962, on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. When the opportunity to escape presented itself 26 years later, in the form of a GI who wanted to marry him, Hansel had sex-change surgery and became Hedwig. The surgery was a botch, hence the “angry inch”, and so was the marriage; the GI dumped the transgender émigré a year later in a Kansas trailer park as the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Bad timing, Hedwig! And yet, these disappointments started her on the path to becoming the “internationally ignored song stylist” she is today.
Hedwig And The Angry Inch (2001), the film version, was written, adapted, and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who also plays the title role, reprising his performance from the original stage production. Mitchell’s and songwriter Stephen Trask’s musical has developed a devoted cult following, despite the film being box office bomb, grossing only $3.6 million from an estimated $6 million budget in its first run in theatres.
The film won the Best Director and Audience Awards at the Sundance Film Festival as well as Best Directorial Debut from the National Board Of Review, the Gotham Awards, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. The film and its star won a bunch of film festival awards, and Mitchell received a Golden Globe Award nomination.
The stage version of Hedwig And The Angry Inch opened Off-Broadway in 1998, and won the Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. The production ran for two years, and then, productions with various casts by the original creative team played in other cities. In 2000, the musical had a London West End production, and it has been produced throughout the world in hundreds of productions.
In 2014, the show finally played on Broadway, winning a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. As Hedwig, Neil Patrick Harris won a Tony, and so did Lena Hall pas Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband.
Actors who have played Hedwig onstage in the USA include: Tony award-winning actor Michael Cerveris, Darren Criss, Taye Diggs, Andrew Rannells, Michael C. Hall, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Rapp, Matt McGrath, and Donovan Leitch Jr., the glam-rocker son of 1960s musician Donovan. RuPaul’s Drag Race season five winner Jinkx Monsoon portrayed Hedwig in a Seattle production.
“There are other stories to be told through Hedwig’s voice. If I wanted to make a lot of money with Hedwig, I could have spent all my time on it. But that’s boring. Some people end up becoming just a conservator of the one thing they did and making sure they get their merch out and all that. What’s interesting is that some of the things I’m interested in talking about is a story which has to do with the second half of your life, which can be told through Hedwig’s voice because she’s older. If the timeline is consistent, she’s as old as me. So we’ve been working on a sequel. I think it’s going to take multiple forms — though in what order, I’m not sure. My goal is to do a trilogy and when I’m 70 to do the final chapter.”