Hedwig and the Angry Inch has made its triumphant return to the stage this month in San Francisco. The long awaited return opened to rave reviews and has been anticipated by fans for ages. But what makes this production unique and history making is, for a handful of performances, the Tony Award-winning Lena Hall, known for her long time run (and aforementioned Tony win for) as Hedwig’s husband, Yitzhak, will be performing as Hedwig. This marks the first time in the show’s history that the lead role has been played by a woman. And I can’t imagine a better woman to take the wig down from the shelf.
We got the chance to talk to Lena about the upcoming production and what it’s like to step into the heels.
PopWrapped: For you, this production is a homecoming. What is it like kicking off this current and historic production of Hedwig in your hometown, San Francisco?
Lena Hall: It’s been great. We were in tech, so it’s been long nights and days for awhile. We’re still kind of tired form tech. Ever since I got here -- I got here last week -- I’ve been nonstop. And I’m still trying to catch up on stuff. It’s been really cool. I was curious to see how the show would play in such a huge house -- I think the Pantages is even bigger (where they head next) -- because the show is so intimate, especially in New York at the Belasco. The audience was right up against the stage. It was a smaller, tighter house, so I was curious to see if what happens on the stage translates to the back of the house, if people get the same vibe and emotional impact. So far, it seems like it is. It is an intimate show. We want you, the audience members, to come to us. There’s a lot of subtleties on that stage, and I was wondering if people would pick it up. And even how my character would translate to a larger house. It’s very subtle. But it seems like it translates really well to a huge house.
It’s really cool coming home, being here and being able to bring what I’ve been working on for so long to all my friends and all my family in San Francisco. It’s exciting. A lot of people couldn't come out to New York to see. People were thrilled, but not only that I get to play Hedwig here as well -- and have a trial run as Hedwig for four shows in my hometown. That feels amazing. It’s a great opportunity to prove to the creative team and the producers that I can do it just as well as the boys. Girl power...
The invited dress rehearsal with a smaller audience [is] all friends and family. I am nervous about my first Hedwig show but because I only get to do it once a week I don’t have time to be nervous. I just have to do what I do best and hope that the story comes across and that people pick up on the story really well.
PW: In playing Hedwig, how do you feel telling the story? Internally, what does being a woman bring to the story?
LH: I’m not sure yet what it adds. There is a certain thing that is happening that I find women connect more deeply with the show when I did it. And, while the show is completely connected, when you get it, you get it. It just moves you. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but I do feel a female connection more with the audience. As far as I’m concerned, me, I’m the character. I’m a man who is not a transgendered woman. To me, the story is not so much revolved that it’s more about finding out who you are. And this person, who loses themself and gives themself away to everyone and is left with virtually nothing, finds himself again and becomes whole again at the end. And, to me, that's what the story is about. And really [the role] can be played by anyone. And I think that, because it’s such a beautifully written piece of art, it doesn’t matter who -- male, female, transgender, whoever -- plays the role, the way it's written comes across loud and clear. And it’s also open to interpretation. A lot of people interpret the end a number of different ways and get a lot out out of it.
So the blatant thing of me being a woman is that I don’t have to work on my femininity at all. What I do have to work on more is about telling the story correctly and making sure it’s totally clear and there’s no question about what’s going on on that stage. That does mean I have to alter myself a little bit to the masculine side and the fierce side. That’s something I’m doing seven days a week as Yitzhak anyway, so it’s not that strange for me. I love playing with gender, and I love the idea of the androgyny of everything this show brings. I like the inability to define what gender Yitzhak is. I love the confusion of the audience. And the same for Hedwig. He, she, or something in between? It’s a very popular subject right in in the political sphere and is something a lot more people are willing to think about. What defines a person? Is it pronouns or is how they feel? What is it that really defines who you are? All in all, this show was written way ahead of its time and remains relevant. It’s a timeless, timeless show. It was written in the 90s; the music, the story, everything about it holds up.
PW: How has the message of the show changed people and you?
LH: The show had an unexpected effect on people. People would tell me that I saved their lives, and people would say I showed that it was okay for them to be who they wanted to be, to be themselves. I never accepted or thought of that. That wasn’t something I thought about. It wasn’t my personal goal, but I’m really grateful that I can touch people in that way and change their life for the better. It’s a powerful thing. Messages are extremely powerful. It’s hard to want to take responsibility for inspiring people that way because I don’t want to make a wrong move. But I try to live my life to be as genuine as possible.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues its run at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre through October 30, then it makes its way to Los Angeles! I highly recommend seeing it when it comes to a stage near you, and prepare to be rocked. Lena Hall takes over the role of Hedwig for two more performances on October 19 and 26.