“Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not…. John Cameron Mitchell”. In the midst of his very first Australian tour, John Cameron Mitchell takes to the stage of Canberra’s Playhouse Theatre to be greeted by an enthusiastic audience of a few hundred, keen to drink in the songs and stories of Hedwig and The Angry Inch, the 2001 cult rock film that Mitchell wrote, directed and starred in.
In full Hedwig character, Mitchell commands your attention from the get go, and adds a level of flamboyance that The Playhouse has not witnessed for some time. In reference to his ostentatious costume, Mitchell explains, ‘If I’m going to be playing the Sydney Opera House, I may as well wear it’.
Although he’s had a flourishing career as an actor and director both prior to and since the movie, its Hedwig for which he is still best known –and tonight, the Canberra crowd are treated to a 90 minute set that comprises songs from the Hedwig movie, with Mitchell providing the background commentary and influences for each song.
The Hedwig story is about an East German rock musician chasing after an ex-lover who plagiarized his songs. Yet that description is far too simplified. Tonight, Mitchell digs deep into his own past and details aspects of his life that influenced the creation of Hedwig, his alter ego in more ways than one. Mitchell articulates how the vignettes of the various characters of the movie are interwoven with his own life.
From growing up in conservative Junction City, Kansas to living on army bases in Germany, (his father was as one stage the military commander of West Berlin), to attending the punk rock drag clubs of NYC and to how he met songwriter Stephen Trask – Mitchell delivers his stories and other narratives in a compellingly exuberant manner. Quick witted, humorous and sharp – Mitchell is a master of the one-liner, and the laughs are non-stop. There is also glitz and glamour, and the audience are well and truly captivated.
There’s even a local gibe that the audience warm to, when Hedwig refers to herself as “Miss Canberra checkout queen” and surmises that Tuggeranong “sounds like a Thai massage parlour”. Yet at times, there is also a sincerity and candor to Mitchell’s performance. His message of ‘be kind’ is stark – but also poignant.
Yet it’s the songs that made the Hedwig movie so good – and it’s the songs that are the real highlight of the show. Yes, it’s Mitchell’s interpretation of the songs that heighten their appeal – yet there is a sublime pop perfection to Trask’s songs that is truly captivating. These are melodic should-have-been hits that draw on early 70s glam influences (Bowie, Lou Reed) and almost demand audience participation. Astute rock fans will note that the musical pedigree of Hedwig also extends back to NYC drag queen and or punk pioneers Wayne County, the New York Dolls and Cherry Vanilla.
‘Origin Of Love’, ‘Wicked Little Town’, ‘Sugar Daddy’, ‘The Long Grift’ – the audience lap it up and are also treated to a cover of Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’, with big-voiced back up vocalist Amber Martin really letting loose. (Martin has recently completed a run of shows as Janis Joplin in ‘Janis Undead’, at Adelaide’s Cabaret Festival).
The super catchy ‘Wig in a Box’ (complete with audience sing-along), is another show highpoint, before a superb rendition of the dramatic epic that is ‘Midnight Radio’ brings proceedings to a close. At the conclusion of the set, the audience are up and out of their seats, joined in full applause. As the house lights are switched back on, the room is awash with a sea of smiling faces.
A phenomenal live production from start to finish – with Mitchell delivering an electrical performance as Hedwig. A show you do not want to miss!
National Tour Dates
Friday, 6 July 2018 | Concert Hall | Sydney Opera House
Tickets on sale now from the Venue
Tuesday, 10 July 2018 | Hamer Hall | Arts Centre, Melbourne
Tickets on sale now from the Venue
Tuesday, 17 July 2018 | Concert Hall | QPAC, Brisbane
Tickets on sale now from QPAC
all images (c) Joan Marcus