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A Welcome (Back) of Sorts

So, everyone.

You may have noticed that things have been a little… quieter… here at The Craptacular lately. There are lots of reasons for this, some of them personal. For one thing, both the Mick (Aileen) and I (Laura) have been fortunate enough to see our respective careers — the ones unrelated to this web site — advance significantly in the last couple of years. That’s great for us. As it turns out, it’s not so great for our little passion project.

There’s also the issue of shifting landscapes, both in theater and in technology, that are changing the ways that people consume entertainment and talk about it online. (The last play I saw was onscreen in a movie theater. Wrap your head around what that means for a second.)

Our goal now, in light of all that, is to give you something new. You may have noticed some changes in the way this space looks. And you will be seeing some differences in the way that we present information. For one thing, you’ll be seeing a lot more of… well… us. The idea of mystery and anonymity has never much appealed to us, and frankly doesn’t work very well with our lives. Our nicknames, even — Lucky and the Mick — have been more of an inside joke than a true mask. And the reality of us is pretty simple: We’re two women who are friends, who live in New York City and love theater. Because of that, we often have the excellent privilege doing and seeing cool things that make us happy, and, alternately, turn us into grumpy rage cases who are sure that the world is ending and that Theater Is Dead.

We want to take you on that journey, and invite you to fully participate in it. We’re looking forward to not only giving you new things to read, but giving you new ways to have a conversation with us about this thing that we all love — theater.

So watch this space. And watch some theater today — even if it’s on YouTube.


So this one time, Lucky and I had a chance to interview Alex Timbers for Broadway Radio. And we were both so staggeringly nervous I’m not entirely sure how our racing hearts remained within the confines of our chests. Which, thank god they did, because I kind of like being alive.

But anyway. The point of that story is this– there came a time in that interview where I was just fully incapable of containing how much I love Alex Timbers and I went on this ridiculous, gushing, fangirl monologue at him, all about the brilliance of the Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson book and how he’s such a great writer.

And look. You may be wondering why the fuck I’m talking about Alex Timbers right now in a post that’s ostensibly about Found, the Musical, but here’s the connection– what I loved about Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, what I raved about in Alex Timbers’ face for Broadway Radio, was that the book of that musical was written in the modern vernacular in a way that felt authentic and mature. In a way that understood modern popular speech could be used, even on the Broadway stage, to communicate things far more profound and emotionally compelling than our Grandparents and the crotchety people on the Tony Nominating committee would ever suppose.

And THAT is what I really, truly loved about Found, the Musical.

Not that I laughed so hard I cried at the Booty Time scene. Or that I very nearly fell out of my seat in paroxysms of hysterical joy and laughter during the Johnny Tremain scene. Not that it made unbelievably excellent use of the multi-talented Nick Blaemire in a way that makes me think like, maybe his time has finally come and the world will see what a bloody star he is. Not that there was something crazy awesome about watching TV’s Danny Pudi allow himself to mold into an off-Broadway company, and then dance beside legit actual amazing awesome Dancer with a capital D Andrew Call during the endlessly lovely “Something That I Love.” Not the found letter from the barf bag, which was seamlessly turned into song by Eli Bolin, and not Barrett Weed’s badass performance of “Stupid Love.” Though all those things were wonderful and made me happy that I was in the theater.

No. What I loved first and foremost, was that this show told me a story in a language that felt absolutely and utterly authentic to my life. To the lives of the people around me. To the way I communicate with my friends and loved ones as a part of the post-MTV, Daily Show generation.

There was no pandering to some idea of the Golden Age of Theater that’s long gone and maybe never really existed at all anyway. No feeling of disconnect between the writers — Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree — and the material, like the way it feels weird when your mom says “fo shiz” or Steven Sater says “my junk is you.” Just the kinds of words my friends and I use, telling the kind of story that is both entirely of this moment, and entirely universal. Love, loss, the difficulty of coming into one’s own and being authentic to our own beliefs in a world where it’s really easy to feel like giving them up is the only option. And okay, maybe the idea of selling out is a little more Gen X Y Z whatever than it is like… relevant to the Greatest Generation. But guess what? The Greatest Generation can’t be the only ones supporting theater, the only ones hearing their voices on stage, and that, my friends, is why Found felt so fucking exciting.

Well. That and the absolutely insanely terrifically wonderful cast who made me laugh until I cried and feel all the feels. (And yes, Mom, I can translate that last sentence for you. But maybe you’d get it if you just saw Found, instead.)


Saturday Night in the Pouring Rain with George

Sometimes, when you’re walking through Georgetown toward the car after dinner, you get caught in a rainstorm so unbelievably torrential that your you cannot see 10 feet in front of you and your umbrella is utterly useless and you end up soaked to the bone. So wet that by the time you’ve sat through an entire performance of Sunday in the Park with George your undergarments are still damp and your shoes are still squelchy and you are basically at least 30% popsicle from the air conditioning.

And sometimes at the end of that performance of Sunday you’ve cried so much you’re blowing literal snot-bubbles when you try to breathe and you’re just so, so thankful it’s dark and no one can see you. Or like, you really hope no one can see you because you forgot tissues so your scarf will have to do and this is embarrassing. Except you’re kind of not that embarrassed because like… THIS IS MOVING MATERIAL, OKAY?!

Wait that’s… That’s just me?

Okay then.

Well. That happened. This past weekend in fact, down at the Signature Theatre in Washington, DC., where their lovely/emotionally devastating — if straightforward — production of Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize winning show, starring Claybourne Elder and Brynn O’Malley is running through September 21st.

Now, before I say anything else about this show that I really, really loved, I have a confession to make. Because it would be sort unfair if I didn’t make it: I think Claybourne Elder is a pretty glorious human being just in general. We met at a Bonnie & Clyde press event and bonded over Sara Brightman’s pure craptacularity and at this point I basically follow him around the country to see his performances (Pippin in KC, Georges in DC) and he never treats me like the creepy stalker I probably am. Instead, he just gives the biggest, best hugs ever and notices things like the ever-changing style of my hair. He’s just that kind of guy.

Anyway. I’m mentioning that bias up front because it’s only fair to do so before I tell you that Clay has now tied himself for the first place position on the very important/hotly contested The Mick’s List of Favorite George(s). And not because he gave me a good hug after the show. Or almost poked his thumb right through my right eyeball when I made a nearly-disastrous turn to face him at the bar.

No. It’s because his performance as George(s) was simultaneously the most aloof and the most emotional I’ve ever witnessed. Which maybe sounds weird. But I think it was that emotional distance in early scenes that really gave heft to his feelings when they finally broke through, especially in scenes like “We Do Not Belong Together.”

The thing is, though, I don’t think any George(s) can pull it off without an excellent Dot by his side. And I’ve seen some excellent Dots, but none of them have been as excellent as Brynn O’Malley — get ready for this girl, Broadway, I don’t think you’re ever going to be able to look back. O’Malley took Dot from sort of nag-y, whine-y sidekick with a real fondness for Georges, to this whole other thing. To this woman who had a power and intelligence of her own (and not just in relationship to Georges). It was great. So, so great.

There was just an emotionality to both Elder and O’Malley’s performances that cast their whole relationship in a different light. At intermission, Lucky looked at me and said “This is the first time I’ve ever really believed Georges loved Dot.” And though it wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first time for me, I understood what she meant. The way they related to each other in that first act was so much more unique and powerful than any production I’ve seen before.

So I just… I loved it. And I wish I could see it again, maybe six more times. And I swear if I could, I’d remember my tissues next time. Because like… that scarf will probably never be the same again. But it’s okay. Because Sunday is always worth it.

And if you’ll excuse me, now, I’m going to go commit some emotional self-harm and listen to “Finishing the Hat” over and over while worrying that I’m going to die alone and unappreciated just like Georges did.

ps. For your reference, Clay is tied with Jason Danieley, who I loved for very different reasons and in very different scenes. He is then very closely followed by Mandy Patinkin and Daniel Evans.

pps. We interviewed Clay for Broadway Radio a little while back and he was lovely and charming and told us about the most famous fake baby on Broadway and how he approached the voices of the dogs in Sunday and also was just great. You can listen to it here.


Whatever man, King Lear is a bullshit play and seeing even good productions of it makes me think that maybe Shakespeare was a hack/want to tweet some incendiary shit about how Shakespeare is the worst, and I’ve been creepily referring to Willy Shakes as my ‘husband’ since I was a teenager (yes, I was that weird of a kid in high school). So. I get it, Ira Glass.

Because like, here’s the thing. Lear makes me feel like… Oh my god, why the fuck did you just make that totally bad decision, and how do you not know your stupid children better because you raised them, and even if you didn’t, you’re a freaking king, how have you not learned more about humanity by now, so fuck you for being stupid and also why have I been in this theater for six thousand hours and seriously you brought this shit on yourself, so I have no sympathy for you, and OH MY GOD WHY ARE WE STILL SITTING IN THIS THEATER I THINK I AM GOING TO DIE HERE.

To put that more intelligently: Lear is the play where I feel as if Shakespeare’s hand is intrusive. Where you can feel him, as the writer, pulling strings in such a way that it makes the characters feel inauthentic. Not just vapid assholes (because hey, most of them ARE vapid assholes, and I get it, that’s the point) but like… behaving as fronts for the Ideas and Machinations of a playwright with Something To Say, and not like real human beings.

And I get it. Lear isn’t really for or about me, so that’s probably part of my relationship to the material. But like. If this play is about an Aging Wealthy White Man Grappling With Losing His Mind and Maybe His Legacy… then basically isn’t it like, perfect for Ira Glass? Like. Isn’t Ira Glass a Future Aging White Man Worried About Losing His Mind and How to Preserve His Legacy? And if Ira can’t really get there, then maybe isn’t it possible that there are some problems here with the material?

Because honestly, even just thinking about seeing Lear again makes me tired. I get annoyed when good people are cast in it because then I feel like I have to see it even though I know it’s going to make me miserable. Make me forget that Shakespeare is not only one of the most important writers in the history of the English language, but one of my personal favorites, whose work continues to enlighten me as I grow older, whose work continues to show new layers and colors as my life grows and changes and reveals them to me.

So like. I’m sorry you had a kind of shitty night of Shakespeare, Ira. Shitty enough that it made you start to wonder if all of Shakespeare doesn’t kind of suck the same way. I’m sure you didn’t mean to piss off the entire Shakespeare-loving world. I just wanted to say like… I Stand With You. Because Lear is bullshit and that’s an okay way to feel. Even if everyone else says it’s bad.

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Holler, I Totes Hear You

I keep wanting to make Challah jokes. Because this is Broadway. But honestly, that’s totally unfair to Holler If Ya Hear Me. Which is so not like anything you’ve ever seen on Broadway. Even when it’s being exactly like everything you’ve ever seen on Broadway. Which is weird, I know. And maybe hard to picture? But it’s true.

Because in some ways, Holler is a pretty standard addition to the Broadway Jukebox Musical canon. Someone, somewhere — okay, his name is Todd Kreidler — wrote a wholly original book that patched together Tupcac’s greatest hits into the story of a handful of young men growing up on the wrong side of town in sort-of modern America. But then, this is a Tupac Jukebox. And nothing about Tupac is terribly standard-fare for the Broadway stage, from the stories he illuminates to the language he uses to communicate them.

So yeah. There are flashy lights. And there’s choreography, a chorus of dancers, people even sing.

But then. There’s the word ‘pussy,’ dropping from someone’s mouth, right there on the Broadway stage. And that’s not like… common in musicals, you know?

Maybe it’s strange, but I was super happy to hear that word. Like. I bounced up and down in my seat a little bit. I was even kind of stoked to hear the n-word. Even though it’s controversial — maybe because it’s controversial — even though it’s a word that this privileged white girl cannot, and would not, ever say out loud.

Because it’s a word that lots of people on this planet use, as a very valid part of their every day dialogue, as a way of co-opting a word that had such negative (nay, degrading) associations, and empowering themselves through it’s use. Or trying to.

And if Holler is about anything, it’s about how difficult it is to empower yourself and escape if you’re a young black man who grows up in the wrong neighborhood. About how easy it is to get sucked into black-on-black violence, an endless cycle that these men are repressed by, even as they are willing participants. Or unwilling participants.

And here’s the thing… as a jukebox musical, Holler is a mixed bag. It has moments of brilliance (“Thug’s Mansion” both fits the story, and really feels like a classic musical moment). And moments where the structure is stretched too thin to accommodate a hit song (So… is there a reason we’re singing “California Love” right now?). And moments of utter failure (like, half the book). On balance, the story is… confusing in places, under-edited almost throughout, and loaded with so many characters it’s hard to keep track. By the end of the show I still couldn’t remember who one of the supporting actors was supposed to be in relationship to everyone else. And it’s real hard to ignore the fact that the women in this show are little more than accessories for the menfolk.

But you know what? By the end of the show I also kind of gave no fucks about any of that. Which is unique. And important.

Usually when I see a bad show I get pretty jacked up about it. Just like… pissed off at the world for wasting my time, which I don’t have a whole lot of, and annoyed that producers and writers and just everyone cannot respect audiences more and present them with good, smart, tightly crafted material.

But after Holler? I didn’t feel that at all. I was mostly just kind of stoked for theater. For a future where more stories like this could be told on the Broadway stage. Would be told on the Broadway stage.

Because everyone should have an opportunity to see their stories told. And because the world is not just white, or upper-class, or upwardly-mobile and if Broadway is ever going to be relevant, it has to find new audiences and new ways to communicate with audiences. Things that are authentic to the experiences of people who did not grow up on Oklahoma!, or even Rock and Roll. Things that have played on the radio in the last fifty years.

Someday, I hope there will be more credible rap musicals, maybe even ones that are entirely original and not just culled from existing material. Someday I hope there are more stories about what it’s like growing up in this nation today, or twenty years ago, even. I hope some of them are told in musical styles that we haven’t already heard on stage a million times, styles that are authentic to the characters as opposed to the medium.

But for now, I’ll take Holler. Which was, by the end, pretty freaking gripping. And on balance, really worth the endeavor, ya hear me?


Photo: Sara Krulwich


So. After Sunday night, a new item has taken the top spot on my “Biggest Regrets of Life” list. And no, it’s not ‘Shouting “CHARLIE!” in Dule Hill’s Face While I Ran to The Bathroom Drunk at 3:30 am.’ Though admittedly, that should probably be afforded a place somewhere on the list. It’s this: Not Asking Reeve Carney About Hanson When I Had the Chance.

You have to understand. Lucky and I are Hanson fans down to the core of our souls. That’s how we met. They’re still our favorite band. In some twisted way, Hanson is the reason this website exists. And we talk about them at any possible opportunity. In fact, once on a red carpet we asked no less than Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts about Hanson — they’re both from Tulsa! — with exactly zero shame.

So for me to fail to ask Reeve about Hanson, while chit-chatting, drunk at 4am on the second floor of a swank suite in the Carlyle Hotel — when Hanson actually introduced me to Carney’s music well before he was even a twinkle in Julie Taymor’s eye… WHAT ON EARTH IS EVEN WRONG WITH ME?!

I mean, okay. My convo got interrupted by an unnamed Motown starlet who was chatting Reeve up hardcore. And girl was giving it such gusto that like, I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt her in return because like… I dunno. You do you, girl. Get it!

But yeah. At 4am, I was chatting with Gideon Glick, and then all of a sudden there was Reeve Carney, dressed like a punk vampire, and he was talking to me and the champagne was amazing and the hotel suite smelled beautiful and was just-barely-lit so we all looked amazing and I don’t even know what the fuck was going on with my life in that moment.

But to be completely honest, Tony Night is series of “OMG WTF” moments, just over and over and over. Because one second you’re in Bemelman’s Bar, hugging a friend who you haven’t seen in weeks, and then you turn around and Broadway’s Zachary Quinto and Smash‘s Joe Machota are just… right there, next to you. Or you’re at the bar in the Summer Garden at Rockefeller Center, catching up with another friend, and Andrew Andrew begin playing “MMMBop” and you race to the dance floor — because, hello, have we mentioned loving Hanson? — and Jesus Christ, there’s Tyne Daly, beside you, bopping along just the same as you are. Or, okay, maybe Tyne Daly is bopping along a little bit better than you are, because Tyne Daly is kind of just better at everything than you are.

And one of the things that makes the whole damn night so fun is that it feels like everyone is having the same kind of night. There’s no air of pretension — no one seems over it, or incapable of appreciating how rare and wonderful and bizarre it is that we’re in these rooms, doing these things. Everyone still seems to be a fan, on the inside. Of Broadway, of other actors, of omelets, of champagne, of 5am sunrises over Central Park.

Last year I ended up sitting on a bed beside Frank DiLella while Claybourne Elder introduced me to someone named David. David looked familiar but I couldn’t place him and Clay — bless him — told David I write a theater blog and we started chatting about this site and theater we loved and it was quite nice and like two hours later I would realize I’d been talking to David Cromer and like… that’s how these parties are. Just people talking to people about theater and what we love. You turn around and you’re talking to Lindsay Mendez about dresses. Or making silly faces with Colin Hanlon before he turns into a pumpkin. You turn around again and you’re telling Reeve Carney about when the party ends. Or embracing Andrew Keenan-Bolger and then singing “Seasons of Love” with the entire room at 5am while someone plays piano. Because we’re all fans on the inside.



Just in case the Tonys don’t have enough topless scenes.

Also, because we just figured out that the best thing about Australia is the beach. Definitely… the beach.

Hugh’s running.

Drowning? Cowlick? Hugh’s got you covered.

The case against waxing.

Hugh’s worried that he’s torn a hole in time and space with his shirtlessness.

Hugh’s shocked by his handsomeness in this photo.

Hugh’s running.

Ole, Hugh.

Hugh looking over there to the right.
Hugh Jackman

Now Hugh’s looking left.

Hugh plus balls.

And now Hugh just has to lie down for a minute.


Sue avec 2013 Tony


By now, we’d like to think the whole entire planet knows that in The Theater, the characters aren’t just on stage. They’re everywhere. Because… duh, that’s what makes theater so fucking fun. So endlessly entertaining, on and off the boards.

Here at The Craptacular, one of our favorite characters, on or off-stage, is Sue Wagner, a producer in Parnes Office. Homegirl is young and smart and beautiful. She’s also funny, and sharp, and she has great taste. In theater, and in things that are more important than theater. Like parties. And dresses.

So with the Tonys approaching hard and fast, we clearly wanted to know all about how Sue is getting ready.

The answer? She’s getting mowed down by town-cars in front of her intern, and selecting dresses galore, and being superstitious as ever. Because with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder up for all the prizes that have ever been prized, well… you gotta do what you gotta do to help.

But you don’t need to hear that from us, so we’re going to let Sue tell you all about it in her own words.

M: Can you tell us about your harrowing recent brush with death?
Sue Wagner: Honestly, isn’t it a rite of passage that every New Yorker eventually gets hit by a town car? I was lucky that although I did go flying thought the air I didn’t hit my head or break anything so I can still wear my killer high heels this Sunday! I can honestly say that as I was being struck by the car I was thinking — I hope I don’t break anything so I can wear those amazing Stuart Weitzmans!

M: Do you have a dress yet?
SW: Absolutely.

M: Who designed it?
SW: Bibhu Mohapatra — he’s incredible but I have no earthly idea how to pronounce his last name so if anyone asks on Tony Night I’ll just pretend we’re on a first name basis.

M: How’d you pick it?
SW: I always go shopping with by BFF who is a good barometer for making sure I don’t look like a tramp on the red carpet. Truly, had she not been there I would have never even considered trying the dress on because it’s a little outside of the box.

M: Does it have thematic resonance with your show?
SW: Yes, I’m a little (a lot) superstitious about things and I always try to wear the color of the show as I’m convinced it’s good luck. The dress’ print (yes, I said print) is mainly Gentleman’s Guide orange. I’ve actually made sure to wear Gentleman’s Guide orange through the entire awards season.

M: What’s more stressful, picking a wedding dress or picking a Tonys dress?
SW: Hands down a Tony Dress. There was only one photographer at my wedding. Plus, I was a child bride so I really didn’t know anything about fashion yet.

M: What about accessories?
SW: Jewels by Verdura. Not only do they have the fanciest baubles in town, and a killer Fifth Avenue showroom with Central Park views, but they also have an amazing history with the theater community. Cole Porter helped front the money to open their first boutique exactly 75 years ago. I had to sign away my life to borrow a vintage 1920s bracelet and a pair of giant crystal earrings, so if I lose anything you may never hear from me again.

M: In one sentence, what the heck does a producer actually do every day?
SW: It’s mainly convincing every single person working on the show that everything is going to be okay — even when your’e 100% sure there is no way everything is going to be okay. That, and answering a lot of emails.

***My alternate answer is, “Ask my mother-in-law — she asks me every single year, ‘what is it you DO again?'”

M: In one sentence, what the heck does a producer do during Tony season?
SW: Practices mind reading, smiles and pops a Xanax.

M: How many dresses did you try on before you decided on the one?
SW: Half a dozen.

M: Actually, how many dresses did you need this season just in general? We know there’s lots going on that not everyone sees.
SW: Well, after consulting my lists — yes, there are so many things to go on during awards season I make a list of each event and write down what to wear to each. (Control freak anyone?!) It was a dozen dresses plus the Tony gown.

M: What’s your morning/afternoon like on Tony Day?
SW: My husband wakes up, rolls out of bed and pulls me off the ledge. Then I head to Radio City at the crack of dawn for the Tony dress rehearsal, followed by hair, nails, makeup, champagne and the dress which I will be completely unsure about most of the night.

M: Do you have any fun pics of your outfit you can share?
SW: Never before Tony Night! Also, if I send you the photo of the dress on the size negative zero runway model you’ll be disappointed when you see me in it.

M: Can we have your closet?
SW: No. That is willed to my nieces to fight over. Pity only one of them shares my shoe size.

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You guys know that there are a bunch of organized Tony Awards viewing parties in New York City this weekend. The ceremony is being broadcast in Times Square. 54 Below is doing a thing. But there are also scads of private parties thrown by industry folks at all levels who (GASP!) aren’t actually going to the awards. Because guess what? Not all industry folks in New York City go to the awards. Amazing, right?

Our favorite annual house party is thrown by Steve Tate, who heads up the marketing department at the Atlantic Theater, and his girlfriend Sara Jayne Blackmore, who’s an actress. They live on the Upper West Side in an apartment that was featured in the New York Times, which is clearly amazing. We chatted with Steve over drinks about what makes an amazing Tony party, and what he’s planning for this year.

Lucky: Why a Tonys party?

Steve Tate: It’s the seventh year doing it. I’ve been to the Tonys a few times – the last time was when I was working on the Spring Awakening account at Situation Marketing. And going to the Tonys is totally different than watching the Tonys. Going is very much more formal. You can’t make any little side remarks.

L: Basically, you have to behave.

ST: Exactly. And I just wanted to pull together some people what we know, that work in the industry and love getting together. And the environment is not the same as an official party. It’s totally unbiased. It started out as six or seven people, and it’s grown over the years.

L: What are you doing for prep?

ST: Today I ordered 100 balloons. I called around and priced things out. Balloons are not cheap. And oddly enough, people don’t eat that much food during the Tonys.

L: Really? What, they just want to drink?

ST: Yeah, it’s all about the alcohol. I’m making a punch so I don’t have to mix cocktails.

L: Any theme to go along with the shows?

ST: No, I don’t geek out that way.

L: What single element really makes a great party?

ST: The people. If it’s all actors, they can get kind of catty because they’re not onstage. And theater is collaborative, so you have to have a variety of people at your party. Actors, directors, marketing people, writers. They all come in with a different perspective. And when categories come up that some people don’t care about – Best Book of a Musical, for example. Well, the writer at the party cares about the book. So when that award come up, he tells everyone to shut up. It’s good. And also booze. Gotta have booze.

L: So who’s coming?

ST: It’s all up-and-coming people. But the coolest thing is when people you don’t know show up. I met my girlfriend because of this Tony party. A couple of years ago, my friend brought a friend to the party who was like, “Are you single and straight? I have a girlfriend for you. And also, here’s my play. Would you read my play?” So from that one introduction, I got a play that I optioned, and I also got a girlfriend.

L: Has there every been something on the Tonys that was a game-changer for your party?

ST: When Alice Ripley won for Next to Normal and she gave the crazy speech, people in the room were like, ‘What?’ And in 2007 when In the Heights performed, there were some people at the party who were working on the show, and they did that medley. After that, people were on their feet. Because the energy of that moment was great.

photo: Steve Tate

Going to a Tonys party — or throwing your own? Tell us about it in the comments section.



Hedwig and the Allure of the Un-Tainted Show

The end of a very long story is this: I did not see Hedwig and the Angry Inch in the late 90s or early ‘aughts. Despite ample opportunity, and friends urging me to do so, I opted out of the whole thing. Even the movie. My reason was stupid and not worth getting into and totally, typically, annoyingly me.

For years and years I meant to fix that mistake. But with so much new out there — new theater, new movies, new books, new friends — I just never got around to it. Then the rumors started. Hedwig was going to make its way to Broadway. That’s when I got this totally tantalizing idea in my head: I could see this show on stage for the first time, totally pure. With no knowledge of what happens, of how it starts or where it goes or how it ends.

This is an idea that I’m kind of obsessed with — not just with Hedwig, but more generally, conceptually. Perhaps especially because in 2014, it feels increasingly rare: the opportunity to see a musical I know almost nothing about. To experience it the way I used to experience theater as a kid, when it was all new, each show unfolding before me with nothing but the power of its own storytelling to take me on the journey.

Because the internet exists, because I cover Broadway theater on this website in my spare time, because we keep turning movies into musicals, because I am no longer nine, I basically never go into a show with no concept of what’s about to unfold anymore. It’s basically impossible.

And I suppose it’s unfair to say I had NO concept of Hedwig. Any obsessed Hanson fan worth her salt has watched the YouTube video of Hanson-adjacent singer-songwriter Ben Jelen performing “Wicked Little Town” at The Knitting Factory in 2008 (Lucky was actually there that night!). Last year Norbert Leo Butz sang “Wig in a Box” in his cabaret Girls, Girls, Girls. Just a few weeks ago I heard Matt Doyle and Katie Gassert sing “Origin of Love” at Matt Murphy and Ryan Scott Oliver’s wedding. But somehow, improbable though it may be, I didn’t know much more.

In fact, I made it into the Belasco last week knowing only this:

1. It stars someone named Hedwig, who is either in drag or transgender, though I was leaning toward transgender.
2. It features someone named Yitzak, who is a man, but who is played by a female actress.
3. There is a song called “Wig in a Box,” and a song called “Origin of Love” and a song called “Wicked Little Town.”

That’s it. That’s all I had going in. That, and the knowledge that some of the people whose taste I trust most in this world absolutely adored this show. Lucky, for example. Hedwig is her favorite musical. This all seemed like great news. I was so excited. I’d spent the past few years working really hard at not getting spoiled, and I’d succeeded, and I was going to see this show with fresh eyes, and no baggage, and Hedwig was going to tell me its own story. In its own words. In its own style. All by itself.

I maybe regret this now.

I mean. Hindsight is 20/20 and yadda yadda yadda. But… wow. Wow, did I have an unenjoyable experience at Hedwig.

I spent the last 10 minutes of the show confused out of my mind. And not like… in this awesome, omg, this show is so cool and it’s not forcing a strict interpretation on me and I totally get to make up my own mind about what just happened on that stage. But in a very literal way, in a like… I actually do not know what just happened and none of the ideas I can come up with based upon the story I just saw and the set of facts it presented me make even the remotest bit of sense or even seem possible.

I’ve felt confused by the way shows have ended before. I didn’t even realize Memphis was ending until I noticed all the actors were suddenly in in matching costumes, and thus, I was witnessing the final number. There was a song about Bananas in Bullets Over Broadway that I definitely do not understand, but I do know it was definitely the end of that musical. And shit, more than a year later I still have NO IDEA how The Bodyguard ended, and I’ve even talked to someone involved with the production team (they changed the ending from the movie, y’all).

But what those shows have in common is this: I hated them. And I walked out of the theater knowing — incontrovertibly — that they were not pieces I thought of as high quality, intelligent, thoughtful, well-crafted theater. They were pander-y, or schlock or even just plain bad. They were not my shows.

Leaving the Belasco after Hedwig, I did not feel that way. I did not think: that is an inherently bad show. Instead I felt… deeply disappointed. And utterly confused. I emerged onto 43rd street feeling stupid and lost, and wondering how on earth I had missed what was going on. Thinking something must have been wrong with me because I couldn’t follow the story.

I don’t normally react that way to musicals. Plays? Yes, sometimes. With plays I sometimes think I just must have missed some genius allusion that would have unlocked the whole rest of the show for me. That I’m just not smart enough and it’s my fault I didn’t enjoy it.

But musicals… I feel pretty confident when I experience musicals that I’ve understood what’s going on. And that my enjoyment, or lack thereof, is what it is. Not the result of some personal failing, but the result of the show itself.

In that way, Hedwig was a stand-out. But here’s the other remarkable thing about Hedwig: the more I thought about it, and talked about it with friends, and listened to the cast recording (because I did immediately love the songs)… the more I began to fall in love with it. To see the end of the show as a flexible bit of magic that was meant to allow me to make up my own mind, that could and should be interpreted in multiple ways. As something that was not literal.

I began to see the layers — the Platonic allegory, the history of rock and punk, the cold war parable, the unpacking of gender and identity and freedom — that had been totally obscured by my very concrete confusion at the end of the show.

And I began to realize that my problem was not with the show itself, really. But with the particular production I’d just seen. One that made a handful of very literal choices that pulled me completely away from the emotional thrust of the material. I became so wrapped up in untangling the facts of who Tommy and Hedwig were — one person? two? — that I couldn’t see the bigger stories being told.

And if I’d gone into Hedwig with even a basic understanding of what was about to unfold, even a basic understanding that Tommy and Hedwig were definitely two different people at the outset, then maybe I would actually have loved the show right off the bat. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so confused by that newspaper cover with two pictures of the same person — because both were so clearly Neil Patrick Harris — in different outfits. (Is Tommy cross-dressing as Hedwig and he was mug-shotted in and out of drag? Does Hedwig actually have an alter-ego named Tommy?) Maybe without that confusion stopping me in my tracks and pulling me fully out of the narrative so early in the show, and then again, later, during the final scenes, I would have been better able to follow the Platonic allegory or the cold war parable or or or or.

And I don’t know. Maybe a show shouldn’t require me to have background to understand what’s going on. And maybe that is entirely the material’s fault, and not the fault of a production that made some choices — glaring timeline issues, two pics of NPH on that newspaper cover — that fucked with my ability to suspend disbelief. Or maybe it IS the production’s fault, because how can you fuck with my ability to suspend disbelief in the theater? ESPECIALLY with a show that has such a theatrical ending?

But maybe the idea of seeing a show totally “pure” is bollocks anyway. Because even if we don’t know the story we’re about to be told, we all enter the theater with expectations in tow. And those are things we can never, ever escape.


Photo: Joan Marcus

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