I flew to New York a few weeks ago and am only now catching up with the writing. My head has been so full of things to remember and talk about that the thought of beginning it has been overwhelming. All of it was such a whirlwind that it’s still all jumbled. I finally made a decision though and I am going to start with one of the highlights – Hedwig.
I think it is pretty safe to say that Neil Patrick Harris is amazing. Casting him and allowing him to elaborate and expand as Hedwig was not only brilliant for the money-making aspect of the production, but it also makes random television-watching humans want to go see the play. This is super important particularly now with all of the states that are tackling gay marriages and the bigoted reactions that we as a nation are all dealing with. That being said, these are not the reasons I was at the show. I flew across the country to see it, because as I said, Neil Patrick Harris is amazing. Hedwig is one of my favorite soundtracks of ALL TIME. I’m actually not really into musicals and I didn’t gush over the movie of Hedwig at all – however the music is brilliant and I had a feeling that this production would knock it out of the park. I was right.
My best friend is also in NYC for a seminar, so truthfully Hedwig wasn’t the only reason I went across the country. When I made him get a ticket, I think he was humoring me – knowing that it’d be OK but really he was there because I insisted. Due to poor planning, we were not sitting next to each other and instead I was sitting next to a woman from who knows where in her sixties or seventies. While we were waiting for the show to begin, I couldn’t help but overhear her loud complaints about being dragged to a “silly play about disgusting drag queens”. She was not shy with her opinions about “the gays” and that she “may not be able to tolerate that young Doogie Howser fellow after being forced to sit through this” by her granddaughter.
I was appalled. I looked around and emotions were mixed. Those who had heard her were either horrified and speechless like me or they were kind of silently nodding along with her, as if they were all there by some force that was not their own and were uncomfortable and disappointed by their very surroundings. I could not fathom paying so much money and traveling from wherever they came from to complain before it even began. I could not understand choosing that play to go to if you were truly so bigoted and against the characters. I was totally confused by anyone who would say that OUT LOUD in this show.
And then I remembered. People love Neil Patrick Harris. They were going to sit through a play that went against their morals just so they could see him. They may hold it against him if it is bad, they may use him as an excuse to their friends or family as to why they were there, but they were going to go. It was a very strange realization.
I was no less appalled. The lights went down and I picked my jaw up off the floor – just to let it fall there again – but this time in a good way. Neil Patrick Harris’ Hedwig is the most beautiful train wreck to ever grace the Belasco theatre. The funny banter with the audience is crass and perfect. His acrobatic song performances have a life and a swirling energy of their own – and his ability to draw the crowd in to his every single word is breathtaking. In the more poignant moments, a sold out crowd was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop – not even a shift in the chair or a cough could be heard. The theater was utterly transformed into Hedwig’s world – a world of the most heartbreaking pain and challenging taboos ever imagined. It was at once much more serious and much more irreverent than I ever expected – and I expected a lot.
I cried nearly all the way through the show…and I am not usually that woman. I looked over at my friend who had only bought a ticket to humor me and he was on the edge of his seat throughout the whole performance while occasionally throwing a fist in the air or bursting out with a belly laugh. The show was magic.
I had forgotten about all of the people around me – including the woman who had been so terrible before the lights went down. During the last number, the phrase “lift up your hands” repeats over and over – and many of us did just that. Because I was already familiar with the play, I knew the ovation would come 20 seconds later so I got to my feet to raise my hands. As I did, I looked at this judgmental, bigoted woman next to me and nearly fell over. She had tears streaming down her face and her hands in the air, just as riveted to the story as I was, and when the lights came on she jumped to her feet clapping furiously and reaching for her kleenex.
That right there is why reviving Hedwig right now, in this day and age of discrimination being written into law, is so vitally important. That is why casting someone like Neil Patrick Harris as the star is genius. This woman went from one extreme to the other in 100 minutes – but would never have been there at all except for who was starring. By the end, she didn’t see a “disgusting drag queen” – she didn’t even see Neil Patrick Harris – she saw a broken person sing his way out of the darkness. She saw a tale of love that every single person deserves and should be lucky enough to find – and she was fully engaged. It was amazing to see.
Now I don’t know how long that feeling will stick. She could have woken up in the morning and been the same person she was before she ever sat through that show. I like to think the next time she describes someone of any other proclivity that she will not use the word disgusting. I like to hope that she may not vote against “those people” ever again in her life and that she will always remember that play.
I know for a fact I will. My friend and I both were unwilling to leave the theater when it was done. He was more choked up and emotional than he ever thought he’d be and was blown away by the production. We let everyone walk out before we stood up again, choosing instead to talk about sexuality, gender roles, the white hot love people can feel and empathy for the broken among us who might never get that chance. When we walked out of the building, we sat on a concrete bench outside to continue the conversation and 45 minutes later when the stars came out a side door, I was lucky enough to tell them ALL that they were stunning and amazing. I know that everything is about Neil in the press and most of this post is too – but every one of those musicians works their fingers to the bone for that show – and they all deserve praise. One can’t happen without the other. When I walked away with almost all of their signatures (dammit Lena!) on my playbill including Neil Patrick Hedwig’s (as we have rechristened him) it felt like a dream and it does even now.
If I could, I would fly right back and see it tomorrow and the next day and the next because it truly is that good. I would also try to tell them about that woman – to let them know that they truly changed someone for a brief moment because I think it is important for people to know when they’ve gone above and beyond. I would have that night if it had been possible. And yet now, as I write this, I realize that they changed more than just her because witnessing her transformation due to their show gave me an extra bump of emotion, an extra inch of tolerance and a tiny bit of hope where there was only frustration before.
I guess I’ll go ahead and add that to the list of why Hedwig is so important right here, right now.