Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Go To

"On August 13, 1961, a wall was erected down the middle of the city of Berlin. The world was divided by a cold war, and the Berlin Wall was the most hated symbol of that divide. Reviled, graffitied, spit upon — we thought the wall would stand forever. And now that it's gone, we don't know who we are anymore. Ladies and gentlemen, Hedwig is like that wall! Standing before you in the divide between East and West, slavery and freedom, man and woman, top and bottom! And you can try and tear her down, but before you do, you must remember one thing...."

Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a 1998 off-Broadway rock opera by Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, adapted into a film in 2001 with Mitchell in the title role.

The story follows Hedwig Robinson, who at first appears to be a transgender woman. She's the head of the "internationally ignored" nouveau glam rock band The Angry Inch. They play in a string of failing seafood restaurants to small, hostile crowds, while stalking the much more successful rock and roll icon Tommy Gnosis. Tommy — as Hedwig explains to her audience — stole her songs. There's much resentment within the band, particularly between Hedwig and her aspiring drag queen husband Yitzhak.

Hedwig retells her life story to her few fans, of being born in East Germany and listening to the "crypto-homo-rockers" of the 70's on American Forces Radio. Of how she made her way to the States and gained her titular angry inch. As Hedwig struggles to unite her male and female side — just when the city of Berlin is struggling to reunite itself — she discovers there's much more to unite in her identity: the east and the west, the grownup and the child, the old and the new.

Hedwig draws frequent comparisons to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and has garnered a similar cult following. The story draws heavily from both classical mythology and from the glam rock scene while providing new takes on gender and sex in pop culture.

The original Off-Broadway run won a number of awards including at the 1998 Outer Critics Circle and the 1998 Obie Awards.

In 2014, Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall won Tony awards for their performances in the Broadway revival of the same year. The show itself took home prizes for Best Revival and Best Lighting Design, as well as nominations for Best Direction of a Musical, and Scenic, Costume, and Sound Designs. Andrew Rannells replaced Harris in the title role through October 2014, followed by Michael C. Hall. In late January 2015, John Cameron Mitchell returned to the role and was awarded the Special Tony Award later that year for his "outstanding success" in the role. Darren Criss and Taye Diggs also played Hedwig during the show's Broadway run in 2015. Notable actors who have portrayed Hedwig in regional and international productions include Jerick Hofer (better known as Jinkx Monsoon), Sven Ratzke, and Oh Man-seok.

No relation to a certain snowy owl. Though Tara Gilesbie seems to think there is.

Contains the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Hedwig's father. Hansel's mother is somewhat better but makes him play in the oven and throws tomatoes at him, which becomes a bit of a Brick Joke later. It's implied that there is tension between Tommy and his father General Speck, but it's not elaborated on.
  • All for Nothing: The lengths Hansel goes to in order to leave Germany end up for naught. He ends up stuck with a botched surgery, Luther leaving him a year after they marry and the Berlin Wall collapsing.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Sort of. The film is an adaptation of the stage show, while the stage show grew out of a rock band/drag club act that John Cameron Mitchell started when he got annoyed that all drag performers just lip-synced to records.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Yitzhak is played by a woman. The only unambiguous aspect of Yitzhak's gender is that they want to be feminine, but Hedwig forces them to dress as a man because she felt threatened by how good Yitzhak's drag act was.
  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: Just what gender Hedwig identifies as is debatable, though she tends to lean towards female pronouns etc rather than male ones. The sex change operation was for convenience in escape not because Hansel wanted to be a woman, but by the time we 'meet' Hedwig during the show she seems to identify more as a woman than a man - most noticeable in the way she refers to Hansel with male pronouns, but to her present self with female ones. Word of God says that she is not specifically transgender, but something outside the gender binary.
  • Anachronism Stew: The stage show started around 1998 and ran for several years Off Broadway. The film was released in 2001. The date of Hedwig's wedding and emigration to the US is 1988 and her marriage collapsed around the same time as the Berlin Wall in 1989. From there it becomes more vague. Hedwig's time in the trailer park takes place in the early 1990s, although (perhaps because they're homemade) the clothes seem to be straight out of The '70s and The '80s. There's also no mention of when she met her bandmates, including Yitzhak, although the deleted scene hints that it's around the time of the Bosnian War (early 1990s). Made even more vague with the Broadway revival, which updates the story to set it in a Broadway theatre the night after ''Hurt Locker: The Musical'' closes.
    • Hedwig's clothes look outdated because of how little income she has and a likely dependence on second hand shops for her wardrobe.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Tommy as he runs out the backdoor.
    "I love you! I love you!"
    "Then love the front of me, honey! Love the—"
  • Apology Gift: Tommy apologizing to Hedwig in "Wicked Little Town Reprise" explaining that he was "just a boy and you were so much more/ than any god could ever plan/ more than a woman or a man/ and now I understand how much I took from you" and in turn giving her the ability to finally see herself as whole.
    • Hedwig giving Yitzhak her wig
    • Tommy says his guitar is this from his father.
  • Artist and the Band
  • Author Appeal: Mitchell is a Radical Faerie, and most of his works explore gender and sexuality as constructs.
  • Back-Alley Doctor / Easy Sex Change: Hedwig gets a fast, cheap, and completely illegal shady operation. But because of this, the surgery became botched, leaving Hedwig with the titular "angry inch".
  • Big Bad Friend: Tommy pillages all of Hedwig's music and discards her faster than you can say "plagiarist."
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Gummi" is German slang for condom. The gummi bears, as a symbol for the power of adulthood, freedom, and sex, are extremely sexually loaded as are the rest of the candies mentioned in the song Sugar Daddy.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: Compare the intonation of "I was born on the other side/of a town ripped in two" in Tear Me Down vs Exquisite Corpse.
  • Crossover Cosmology: The Origin of Love features Zeus, Thor, Osiris, and some Indian god. They're all dicks.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hedwig.
  • Destructive Romance: "I'll marry you on the condition that a wig never touch your head again. And we've been inseparable ever since, isn't that right, Yitzhak?"
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Angry Inch of the film is either the name of the band or the fact that Hansel's botched surgery didn't remove all of his penis, hence leaving with an angry "inch".
  • Drag Queen: Yitzhak/Krystal. Hedwig, too, to an extent—she was created as a character for John Cameron Mitchell to perform in drag nightclubs.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: "Hansel, I can't believe you're not a girl."
  • Erotic Eating: "And a giant sized Sugar Daddy named Luther..."
  • Epic Rocking: '"Angry Inch," 'Midnight Radio''.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first four seconds of the movie perfectly nail down exactly who Hedwig is by having her walk confidently to the allyway entrance of a building while dressed to the nines, then toss her umbrella aside as she enters as if she expects someone to catch it for her.
  • Everybody Wants the Hermaphrodite: Hedwig becomes a sex symbol.
  • False Soulmate: Luther? Tommy? Yitzhak? Who is Hedwig's missing half?
  • Foreshadowing: In "Sugar Daddy," Hedwig (then Hansel) tells Luther, "If you buy me the dress, I'll be more woman than a man like you can stand." A year after their marriage, Luther leaves Hedwig for a man.
  • Gainax Ending: The final number of the show involves an extreme costume change, in which Hedwig appears to turn into Tommy. Did Tommy come to the theater? Is Hedwig Tommy? Does Tommy really exist? Does Hedwig? Is Hansel singing to WLTR to Hedwig? Hard to say, though the creators seem to lean towards Tommy and Hedwig both being real, separate people!
  • Gallows Humor
  • Gave Up Too Soon: Hedwig leaping to escape East Germany instead of waiting another year for the wall to collapse ends with her dumped by Luther on their anniversary.
  • Goth: Skzsp
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Hedwig jokes about when she had to prostitute herself to survive.
    "I returned to doing odd jobs. Mostly the jobs we call blow. I had lost my job at the Base PX and I had lost my gag reflex. You do the math!"
  • "I Am" Song: "Tear Me Down"
    "I'm the new Berlin Wall, baby! Try and tear me down!"
    • And later "Wig in a Box"
    "Look at the woman I've become."
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Hansel delivered what he called a "brilliant lecture" on rock 'n' roll and East German philosophy entitled "You Kant Always Get What You Want." Extended in the revival with the subtitle "But If You Try Sometime, You Might Get What You Nietzche."
  • "I Want" Song: "Origin of Love" is a subtle one, establishing Hedwig's desire to find her "other half." "Wig in a Box" also describes the women she wants/pretends to be while wearing various wigs.
  • Jerkass: Hedwig again. Her treatment of Yitzhak is outright psychological abuse. She's a Jerkass Woobie if ever there was one.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior?" "No, but I love his work."
  • Killed Offscreen: The fate of Phyllis Stein, Hedwig's unseen manager (portrayed by Andrea Martin in the film), after Mitchell returned to the role for the Broadway production. About two-thirds into the show, Mitchell's Hedwig launched into a rather absurd monologue about how Phyllis died during a "routine face transplant". Subsequent Hedwigs do not give this monologue, but do refer to Phyllis as their "late" manager.
  • Lust Object: Tommy in-canon
  • Medium Blending: Several animated segments, especially prominent in "Origin of Love." Also notable in the transition between "Angry Inch" and "Wig in a Box".
  • Mind Screw: The ending, of the film especially.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Hedwig initiates a relationship with then-17-year-old Tommy when she is at least thirty.
    • As an added bonus, when Hedwig married Luther Robinson, she took his last name—therefore, she really is a Mrs. Robinson.
  • Mythpunk: The heart and soul of the story.
  • Punny Name: Phyllis Stein, the band's manager. Also Yitzhak's original stage name (which also Crosses the Line Twice), Krystal Nacht.
  • Radio Song: "Midnight Radio."
  • Rage Against the Heavens: "Origin of Love" has a lot of elements of this.
    " two pieces of a puzzle that don't quite fit together but are jammed together and left on a table by... (railing at the heavens)... some dangerous shut-in with too much time on his hands!"
  • Recursive Crossdressing: When Yitzhak finally gets his "dream" of becoming a drag queen. The role is traditionally played by a woman dressed as a man, who reverts to dressing as a woman/drag queen at the end of the show.
  • Reincarnation Romance: The subject of "Origin of Love", adapted from Plato's Symposium, is how men and woman (and men and men and women and women) were once joined together as one person and the gods cut them in half for hubiris; love therefore comes from meeting your past-life other half.
  • Sad Clown: In the stage play, Hedwig has a running joke going on where she asks her audience if she's laughing or crying. It becomes clear after a while that she's grinning so hard because if she'd ever give into crying, she'd pretty much kill herself.
    "I laugh because I will cry if I don't."
  • Shout-Out
  • Storyboard Body: Hedwig has a tattoo of what looks like half of a face, symbolizing how she's searching for her other half. The end of the movie somehow has the tattoo become whole, as she finally learns how to accept herself as she is.
  • Team Mom: Phyllis, Hedwig's manager in the film.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Luther initially takes the sunbathing Hansel for a girl. Hansel corrects him somewhat dramatically.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "My bishop in a turtleneck." Used once more in the stage show, after which Hedwig congratulates herself on a successful running gag.
  • White Void Room: During the song "Midnight Radio" in the film.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: At one point, Yitzhak just shouts that Hedwig should just write her own songs instead of constantly stalking Tommy.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Several verses in "Exquisite Corpse." Some stanzas are coherent ("I'm all hollowed out, covered in a paper shroud and all the rest's illusion"), but then you get this verse:
    A random pattern with a needle and thread
    The overlapping way diseases are spread to
    A tornado body with a hand grenade head
    And the legs are two lovers entwined!
    • Of course, word salad is what an exquisite corpse is supposed to be. A coherent one actually ruins the point of the exercise.

Alternative Title(s): Hedwig And The Angry Inch