Photo – Joan Marcus
One night only Melbourne, James Cameron Mitchell writer, actor, performer, and philosopher with Amber Martin, and band presented The Origin of Love: The Songs and Stories of Hedwig. It was a heartfelt and theatrical performance with a narrative of love, humour, religion, history, friendships, and loss. By the third fervent encore, Mitchell delivered himself prone position to the audience to be held up by their hands, allowing himself to be carried deep into the theatre. Performers and audience likewise expended in the most fantastic of ways, leaving no doubt why there was one night only.
To the un-initiated, Hedwig and The Angry Inch was an Off-Broadway musical circa 1998, subsequently adapted to screen in 2001, receiving critical acclaim. The main protagonist, Hedwig (played by James Cameron Mitchell) is a maturing East German boy during the cold war. Hedwig falls for an American Solider, who promises Hedwig matrimony and a new life in America. The twist is Hedwig needs to have a sex change to escape East Germany as the wife of the G.I. The operation gets ‘botched’ and the marriage sours, leaving Hedwig abandoned in America as the Berlin Wall falls. Hedwig is a strong androgynous character who faces his new circumstances, and demons (and there are many) head on. There is obvious appeal to the LGBTI community in Hedwig’s story with gender ambiguity and homosexuality being key themes of the story. However, for me, the story of Hedwig transcends gender and sexuality, foremost it is story of love, yearning, tragedy, suffering, betrayal, loss, and final redemption. Love is love, forget classifications.
The audience at The Origin of Love were the devotees of Hedwig and The Angry Inch, yet the storytelling, humour, musicality, and theatre of the performance would have been as equally entertaining to anyone unfamiliar with Hedwig. Mitchell opened the show with the song “The Origin of Love” wearing a black, white, and grey layered costume symbolic of the animated sequence in the movie, and of course wearing the characteristic Hedwig hairpiece which had been toned to ash blonde (possibly light grey). During the evening parts of this costume would be ceremoniously (sometimes surreptitiously) disrobed from Mitchell, giving the impression of an artist stripping back, and laying bare metaphorically and physically for the audience.
Amber Martin is listed a special guest and she was fabulous. Her vocal range paired beautifully with Mitchell's as did her costume. Their strong friendship and caring for one another was beautiful to watch on stage. After Mitchell spoke of his encounter with David Bowie, Martin sang Ziggy Stardust with fearless intensity and passion. With great synergy Mitchell and Martin brought life into the music, and the stories of Hedwig. By the final encore Martin disrobes, wearing only a G-string and full body stocking with black crosses over her nipples. She was outrageous, but so fantastic.
During intermissions from the songs Mitchell would give an account of how the script and the songs for Hedwig came to being. From chance encounters, to the real people who inspired the characters. Mitchell plays his alter-ego Hedwig so convincingly it was a surprise to find out that the character Tommy Gnosis was modelled on himself, and Hedwig was inspired by a babysitter of his past. The Stories of Hedwig would often lead into larger life questions. For me Mitchell is akin to a Socratic philosopher, seeking truth through asking questions. He presented a depth of understanding of numerous religions, challenging the audience of their own without being condescending. Mitchell's keen intellect, historical and religious knowledge has had me reaching for my dictionary, and tapping into my search engine. For me this is the sign of a great evening, entertain me, but leave me with burning questions.
John Cameron Mitchell with special guest Amber Martin presents
The Origin of Love: The Songs and Stories of Hedwig
by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 10 July 2018
Tickets: $58 – $139