Tortured rock stories often follow a similar pattern: wide-eyed kid from a small town picks up a guitar in rebellion, forms a band, the band gets famous and the country boy is exposed to the seedy underbelly of the rock world. But in 1998, John Cameron Mitchell brought an entirely new rock ‘n’ roll tragedy to the stage.
Created as an homage to a childhood babysitter, Mitchell created Hedwig, a ballsy transsexual rocker who suffered a botched sex change operation and the loss of her lover. The musical finds Hedwig touring the U.S. telling her story to anyone who will listen. Her tour coincides with the arena tour of rock icon Tommy Gnosis, Hedwig's former boyfriend and muse who stole all the songs they penned together and made it big.
Started as a few songs performed with Mitchell's boyfriend's band, he and partner Stephen Trask created a theatrical drag rock show that they intended to perform far from Broadway, in rock clubs. The show owes much to Mitchell and Trask's heroes—David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop—and cult classic drag shows like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But the thoroughly original take on a classic rock story—an innocent boy is taken advantage by a world hungry for creativity—and a raucous hard-rocking soundtrack made this show too rock for the theater people, too theatrical for the rock people. At least at first.
Hedwig was first performed in the Meatpacking District on New York's Hudson Riverfront. A notorious tranny spot, the Riverview Hotel's Jane Street Theater once housed the surviving crew of the Titanic and became the home of Hedwig. The show ran for two years, finally developing a cult following and drawing the attention of New Line Cinema. Trask and Mitchell turned Hedwig into a feature film, which was released in 2001.
Now the play has been performed on stages across the world. But for one night only, Hedwig returns to its rock-club roots as the original cast hits the Trocadero Monday night. $10 gets you in to check out this world-famous drag revue. Doors are at 6 p.m. All proceeds benefit the Azuka's Spring Season.
Rewriting rock's Shakespearean downfall story is just one of the many themes tackled in Mitchell's massive rock opera. But it is the theme that ties it to the bombastic, tortured and sexually eccentric heroes and ghosts that float through it. Be there for every high kick, every sequined codpiece and every ridiculous wig as the most famous transgender rock star hits Chinatown.
At the Trocadero, 1003 Arch St. 215-922-LIVE. $10. Monday, Dec. 8, 6 p.m.