A changing world
Last week, I was in New York on a whirlwind trip. Apart from binge-watching “Game of Thrones,” I got to do photo shoots and publicity for “Allegiance” (a new musical that I’ll be starring in alongside sci-fi TV show legend and social media powerhouse George Takei), plus spend a little quality time with friends.
My time in the city also allowed for a couple of Broadway shows. Quite coincidentally, both shows featured LGBT characters, and I saw them just days before the historic United States Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, the justices ruled 5-4 in favor of it.
On Wednesday night, I took in a performance of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” playing at the Belasco Theater and starring Darren Criss.
Sure, I had seen Darren on television as a cast member on “Glee,” as well as sang with him for a tribute to Alan Menken (plus some drunken musical theater piano bar singing… videos are somewhere on YouTube), so I thought I went in fully prepared for the greatness that I was expecting.
Once the house lights went down and the band and Yitzhak (played by the excellent Rebecca Naomi Jones) were all set, the music began and Hedwig descended to the stage from above, strapped to a harness.
With that trademark wig, glittery blue eyeshadow, Hedwig started to tell her (yes, Hedwig is a transgender woman) story about life in East Berlin, falling in love with an American man named Luther, marrying Yitzhak, and the relationship shared with a young American named Tommy (I can’t give much more away, except to say this particular young man is mentioned a lot throughout the evening).
There are a lot of inappropriate jokes throughout the evening that are bound to offend some (people who are particularly sensitive—or in our local parlance, madaling mapikon—might want to skip this show for something more benign). In fact, throughout the night, I’d spot one or two people getting up to leave, mostly older, seemingly more conservative, members of the audience.
How Hedwig lashes out at the world with the stories and the music leaves the impression of intense pain covered up by a pretense of fabulousness and callous humor. As the night wears on, it becomes very obvious to us that there are cracks in Hedwig’s fabulous outer shell, and—literally and figuratively—it all comes down, and we then see what’s really beneath the huge blonde wig, the makeup, and the costumes.
Darren as Hedwig is right at home here with a microphone in his face and the costumes on his back. This could be considered his own Hamlet, blending tragedy and comedy with skill and heart. It is very easy to get lost in his portrayal of Hedwig, balancing his great concert performance skills with sensitivity in his acting. You see the anger, but you also see that there’s more to this character than meets the eye.
When Hedwig’s final epiphany arrives, the payoff is hard-won on both sides of the fourth wall, and the audience leaves having been through the wringer, and we are all the better for it. Congratulations to the entire company of Hedwig for one heck of a show!
On Thursday night, the show I went to see was “Fun Home,” the 2015 winner of the Tony Award for best musical. I hadn’t seen any previews or trailers for the show, except for the amazing Tony Awards performance of 11-year-old Sydney Lucas (nominee for best featured actress in a musical). Watching and listening to her sing made me immediately curious, and prompted me to get a ticket.
“Fun Home” is based on the memoir by Alison Bechdel, and was adapted into a musical by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron. The memoir is drawn rather than just written (Bechdel is a cartoonist), and it’s about her family and her journey of discovery.
Alison is a lesbian, and shortly after she comes out of the closet, her mother Helen (played by the sublime and heartbreaking Judy Kuhn) tells Alison that her father Bruce (played by this year’s Tony Award winner for best actor in a musical Michael Cerveris) is gay, and has had several affairs with other men over the course of the marriage.
Bruce is also a master of artifice, little by little restoring the home and filling it with baubles and all sorts of bits, which could be a huge analogy for his own life and the painstaking means he took to conceal it. In the end, he ends his own life by jumping in front of a truck. No, that isn’t a spoiler, and this fact is revealed at the beginning of the show.
It is performed at the Circle in the Square Theater completely in the round, giving each member of the audience a unique perspective of the Bechdels in their “fun home” (an affectionate term for “funeral home,” which is the Bechdel family business).
All the performances are top-notch. Two standouts for me are “Days and Days” by Kuhn, and “Edges of the World” by Cerveris, each of them finally expressing to the audience exactly what we’ve all been waiting around 100 minutes to hear. In their unique form of dysfunction, we all see our own, and in their specific brands of heartbreak, we remember our own. No family is indeed perfect, and it’s their unique imperfection that we can relate to.
On Friday morning, as I sat in the plane waiting to take off, my phone began to buzz about the Supreme Court decision. For some reason, reading the news brought me to tears. Perhaps from the two Broadway shows, and perhaps for the recognition my friends in the LGBT community have been fighting for years to get.
Years ago, neither “Hedwig” nor “Fun Home” would’ve been shows you could find on Broadway, and the words “gay marriage” were not in our collective vocabulary. Today, both of these things are possible.
The world is indeed changing, and there’s no looking back now.
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