SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This new-old show on Broadway - it is not "The Lion King" - not at all. "Hedwig And The Angry Inch" has been running since last April. Neil Patrick Harris in fact won the Tony for his portrayal of Hedwig, the gender-bending East German rock musician and romantic survivor. Lena Hall is still in the cast as Yitzhak, her sidekick. But the first time since the play won raves off-Broadway in the late 1990s and the 2001 movie, Hedwig is played by the man who created every punk and glam rock inch of her, John Cameron Mitchell.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH")
JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL: (As Hedwig) (Singing) I'm from the land where you still hear the cries. I had to get out, had to sever all ties. I changed my name and assumed a disguise. I got an angry inch.
SIMON: That's from the original production, which won the Obie and Outer Critics Circle Award for best musical. "Hedwig's" music is by Stephen Trask. John Cameron Mitchell will be Hedwig on Broadway until April 26. And John Cameron Mitchell, the actor, director and star joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
MITCHELL: I'm very happy to be here, just a block away from where we perform.
SIMON: How's it feel to be Hedwig again?
MITCHELL: It feels kind of - maybe I've got less to lose, I don't care as much - but there's a kind of explosive kind of rock 'n' roll thing that I never quite got in the old days, which was - I was coming out of Broadway myself. And I wrote it with Stephen Trask to kind of make myself a fake rock star, and I could improvise and get out of the tried and true realm of my usual acting world. And now, I don't really act anymore so I - I'm much more spontaneous and messy onstage than I used to be. And I'm loving it.
SIMON: You do a significant amount of improv, at least the night I saw the show, I'm told more than even great actors like Neil Patrick Harris and Michael C. Hall.
MITCHELL: They created an incredible structure on which I put my icing, you know what I mean? They baked the cake, and it was a beautiful cake. And Neil was unbelievable in the role. He was just magnificent. And Michael C. Hall and Andrew Rannells added their own special spice to it, and so I built on that. And I'm trying to just rough it up, smudge it up and get back to - a little bit to our roots.
SIMON: Let's remind people be who might be only a little bit familiar with the story. Hedwig, the character, is based on someone and some situation that you knew.
MITCHELL: Yeah, I grew up in the military. My dad was the commander of Berlin before the Wall came down. And we had a babysitter who doubled as a prostitute when we were in Kan. - Fort Riley, Kan. And she became the germ of the character. She was a biological woman at the time. And my character's more of an accidental trans person, who started out a boy in East Berlin, trying to escape. The only way he could get out was to become a woman legally and marry an American GI - didn't really want to become a woman, ended up divorced in a trailer park in Kan. and falls in love with a young man who goes on to become a rock star.
SIMON: Is "Hedwig," more than 10 years later now, mostly a show for you? Or does it still feel like - forgive this phrase - a slice of life?
MITCHELL: It's been kind of microcosm in my life in many ways. Whatever you tend to write, there's an accretion of what's going on in your life. And at the time, I was finding my own muscles and wings and escaping, you know, the system of being a normal actor. I was writing for the first time. I was in love for the first time. It was a wonderful time. It was loose, free. And now having experienced more loss, which is what happens when you move into your middle-age and your parents ail, and you see the semi-permanence of everything. It has a different meaning. It feels deeper. It feels harder won. It's - I feel extremely grateful to be able to do this. And I didn't think I'd be able to just physically. Seven shows a week is hard on my old body.
SIMON: Well - you've - since you volunteered that, what's it like? Wall Street Journal says you're over 50.
SIMON: You know, and we believe them.
MITCHELL: Yeah. It's fair and balanced.
SIMON: What's it like to have so much of yourself showing on stage?
MITCHELL: Well, I mean physically, I certainly, you know, went to the gym and my nutritionist, Dr. Lefkowitz, has helped me get rid of that.
SIMON: I'd like to thank my herbalist. I'd like to thank my acupuncturist.
MITCHELL: I'd like to thank my aroma therapist. I do have this incredible team of people who - it's like the bionic woman. They rebuilt me, and it's very intense what I have to do. But it's exciting to see what you still can do. And then the other part is a very emotional kind of - I don't know. I feel like I'm doing this to find out what's next in my life. You know, some people go off to an ashram or they, you know, have a midlife crisis and buy a sports car. For me, I do "Hedwig." And I see, it's midlife crisis maybe, and I see what's next. And it's a good trampoline maybe into the next part of my life.
SIMON: John Cameron Mitchell, back in "Hedwig And The Angry Inch" on Broadway until April 26. Thanks so much for being with us.
MITCHELL: You're welcome. Thank you. This has been a great pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character) Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, Hedwig.
MITCHELL: (As Hedwig) Don't you know me? I'm the new Berlin Wall, baby. Try and tear me down. (Singing) I was born on the other side...
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