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     "Fresh Air" - NPR

April 26, 1999

Michael Cerveris and Stephen Trask interviewed by Ken Tucker (KT)
on "Fresh Air" on 93.9 NPR

This is Fresh Air. I'm Ken Tucker. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a long
running Off-Broadway musical about a failed rock singer who happens to be a
German transsexual, who spent a good part of his...or her... life in a Kansas
trailer park. The show is a concert given by Hedwig and his band the Angry
Inch. It has a lot of good loud glam rock style songs, and a lot of bitterly
hilarious between song patter from Hedwig

Unlike other rock musicals, the songs are performed on stage by a real live rock
band, Cheater.

John Cameron Mitchell wrote the book for the show and was it's original star.
My guests are Michael Cerveris who currently plays Hedwig and composer
lyricist Stephen Trask who wrote the music. Lets listen to the song that opens the
show from the Hedwig cast album on RCA records that features John Cameron

{part of Tear Me Down}

It seems to me that when I went and saw the show, that everything about
Hedwig is divided. He's from East Berlin, and some of the songs talk about the
fall of the Berlin Wall. He comes to America as the boyfriend (sic) of an
American GI who makes him promise to get a sex change operation, which he
does. It's a very bad botched job which is a source of the phrase angry inch.
But then he's dumped and he's living in this depressing trailer camp where he
takes care of this young boy, he falls in love with Tommy who goes on to be a
big huge rock star, so Hedwig is very divided over any happiness he might have
over Tommy's success.

Yet Hedwig tells us this in this hilarious stream of consciousness patter between
songs, and I wonder Michael, do you feel that you almost have to sell that
material almost like a stand-up comic one minute, and then make sure that the
audience appreciates the pain and poignance in this character then next minute?

It's not really a sort of on and off back and forth thing like that so
much. It's sort of like both elements are present all the time and at sometimes the
more tragic elements rise up and other times you do feel like your doing a stand
up routine. But at that moment that's what Hedwig is doing. So I had
always thought that stand-up was probably one of the most terrifying things you
could possibly be asked to do. But I discovered that if you if you wear an
outrageous dress and wig and a lot of glitter, that you can actually get away
with just about anything

Lets play here a segment from the show, the cut called "Angry Inch".

{part of Angry Inch}

Stephen,  it seems like the trick to pull off in a show like this is to write very
good songs about a very bad rock singer, you know? Hedwig, he describes
himself, in my notes - I wrote he's "a slip of a girlie boy who becomes an
internationally ignored song stylist." I mean is it difficult to write good songs
about a bad rock performer?

Well you know I always though Hedwig was a good performer who was
ignored, like myself. And um I guess what was hard for me developing this
huge range of songs. Actually, it was more the band is really supposed to be
kind of bad and developing this huge range of difficult songs and trying to
convince people that this band of sort of eastern European renegades with
no money could pull of this, this huge variety of pieces...

Did you ever write a song and say no that's too good? Hedwig and his band
couldn't come up with something like that?

ummm no... never... I uhh never...

To me the show stopper in this story is "Wicked Little Town". Let me hear a
little bit of that and I want to ask you something about that. Let's hear Wicked
Little Town

{part of Wicked Little Town Reprise}

That's "Wicked Little Town" from the soundtrack album to Hedwig and
the Angry Inch. Stephen, can you tell me something about writing that
song. It seems to come at a point in the show when you really need to build a
climax. Was it conceived as that kind of show stopper?

This version of Wicked Little Town is a reprise of a earlier version which
had existed the for pretty much the whole time we were doing Hedwig. Peter
Askin, the director of the play who did a lot of dramaturgy on the project,
suggested at the end of the play, as part of the closer Hedwig would sort of
transform into Tommy Gnosis, her alter ego, the successful rock star, and that
he would have to sing to her some song that would have to bring together all
her story lines and draw them to a conclusion, and we decided that it would be
a reprise of Wicked Little Town. And it took me really about 11 months to
come up with those lyrics...not the whole time but really try to think what does
Hedwig need to have said to her at this moment? What are all the things that
Hedwig needs to have said?

And no one really told me what they were so I
kinda - for those 11 months had Hedwig on a sort of couch in my mind talking
about her issues and tried to think of what I would say to Hedwig to resolve
these issues. So the main thing is this search for the other half is a red herring
you know, that there there is no short of magical mystical other half that is
out there waiting for you - that you can some how find that will make you into a
whole person and bring you happiness ever after. That you need to be whole
within and of yourself and within Hedwig there is actually these beautiful
things that she wasn't recognizing, like her ability to take an ugly situation as if
it were like a found object and turn it into art - the same way that a lot of the
artists in the 60's and a lot of folk artists were doing. I actually read, um...I
spent a lot of time reading art books. so I..sorta combining a lot of the
philosophies of, of the surrealists, who were dealing with, umm, you know
surrealism was kind of a response to World War I and what seemed to be sort
of...the death of rationalism and an artist response to a world that had
seemed to have been build upon on logic and yet fell apart entirely. And that
somehow Hedwig had reached this point too, where she was following this
philosophy that she was sure worked, you know, and it just lead to her utter
destruction. And so in the 2 songs - "Exquisite Corpse" and the "reprise of
Wicked Little Town," I tried to um, I tried to utilize the philosophy of surrealism
and move Hedwig on to the next stage where she can reject the philosophy that
had failed her and find some way of creating beauty in recreating her life.

My guest are Stephen Trask who wrote the songs for the musical Hedwig
and the Angry Inch
and the shows current Hedwig,  Michael Cerveris. Back in a
flash. this is Fresh Air.

{part of random number generation and commercial}

I'm talking with two of the people behind the Off-Broadway hit Hedwig
and the Angry Inch,
composer Stephen Trask and current star Michael Cerveris.
Michael what are the audiences like for this show? Do they get the sense of
what they're in for? For the degree of drama that's also mixed in with the

I don't...I don't think so. I think its really hard to prepare people for what
they are going to see before they come. One of the things that I love about the
show is the way it begins as just a really exciting funny glam drag rock show
and you think it's gonna be just this really campy fun evening, but pretty early
on, pretty much once you get to "Origin of Love", which is the second song of the
show, you suddenly realize there's going to be a lot more to this. But by that time
your defenses are sort of down, you know. You've sort of wandered innocently
into this world and now your there and the way that it manages just to kind of
entice you in and then sort of hit you with the deeper aspects of the story.

Well you pretty much batter down there defenses. I mean you're out there
in the audience by the song "Sugar Daddy." Your out there right among the
people in this very small theater.

Climbing, in fact, on top of them

Well the night I attended, I must admit to you I was your sugar daddy. I
was sitting alone in the theater and all the sudden I hear a voice say "aw I see
my sugar daddy for tonight". The next thing I knew you were on top of the
chair. Thanks.

Well thank you for the dance.


But it's interesting watching the audiences. I mean we get all kinds of
people now. I mean we have...we still have the club kid downtown people
coming which you know have sort have been the core audience from the
beginning. But we've now started to branch out and reach out to the more
traditional theater going audiences which is a terrific thing and it's nice to
not just be preaching to the converted all the time but to be bringing people in
who might not, had they totally known what it was, might not have decided to
come down. But when they get themselves there and are experiencing it they
find that they love it. And you know that they never would have imagined loving
a musical about a transsexual German rock singer but they find that it actually
has a lot to say to them about  - you know, their lives and the lives of people that
they know.

So that's a really exciting thing to look out at this bizarre
cross section of..of New York and America and present this, you know,
fractured sort of vision and have everybody, almost with out fail, walk away
really having been moved and totally entertained and loving it. And we still have
enough people walk out on occasion that we know were doing something right.

Have you had walkouts?

Yeah, yeah, you know from time to time people who either find it you
know offensive for either reason, and God knows there are plenty of reasons, or
um just don't feel that its there cup of tea. But surprisingly few given the subject

Yeah cause I was wondering what the reaction is when you've taken
Hedwig out into the mainstream world. I mean I know that you've performed on
the Rosie O'Donnell show and David Letterman. What kind of reaction do you
get when Hedwig is taken out of that theater element?

Well um..that's more Stephen's.....

Um there was, there was a lot of heat generated on the Rosie O'
in her chat room. Some people were very offended because her show is
supposed to be rated G and they wrote in how dare you put that thing on my
television. You know, that monstrosity; that drag queen; that prostitute. She
looked like a hooker, my daughter was home from school that day...

Who..who was saying this?

Um you know people...the sort of people that have enough time on there
hands to watch Rosie O'Donnell and write an e-mail. Then people
responded to them and there was this on going debate....Well I think it's you
know culturally enlightening. And then someone would write in and say, you
know my daughter was home from school and we were so offended we had to
turn to the game show network.  David Letterman was great. He
didn't quite know how to respond. But the audience loved it. We... actually
the funniest....the funniest experience we had outside of, outside of a nightclub
or a theater um was very early on when John and I were developing this. We
performed on a patio on Fire Island as a fund-raiser um and it was a very high
priced fund-raiser so Sandy Gallin and David Geffen and all know the
velvet Mafia I think they call them um, where all around and they did not know
what to make of us. It was broad daylight, on the beach, and John was
going around was going around asking people to .. sign his body and he had
these magic markers...

And did they do it?

ummm. ya but it was...

David Geffen's autograph on his abdomen?

David Geffen, Terrence McNally. a lot of, you know, the whole, the
whole gang.

The Radio City gig was pretty funny too, actually opening New
Year's Eve this past year, we opened for Boy George and Culture Club at Radio
City Music Hall, for an audience of people who, some of whom had seen the
show or at least knew what we were about, but I think most of whom really
were just coming to have an 80's flashback sort of evening and so we... ah, we
kinda shook them up a little bit.

Boy George certainly seems as if he could be a possible understudy for
Hedwig at certain points

He was...he told us that he was the one who did the wigs around there, but
otherwise he was really friendly.

- Very gracious.

- Yeah

Stephen Trask and Michael Cerveris from Hedwig and the Angry Inch

{part of origin of love}



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