John Cameron Mitchell drags Hedwig to Adelaide

Adelaide fans of genre-and-gender-busting musical and film Hedwig & the Angry Inch are in for a lush treat this Cabaret Festival.

Hedwig’s creator John Cameron Mitchell is coming to town, and bringing a show packed with old and new material, focused on his personal experiences of living with Hedwig — the transgender, tragicomic East German glam-rock frontwoman with a universal tale of the human need for love and the artistic drive to fame.

In The Origin of Love, Mitchell will perform the songs of Hedwig and share some out-takes from Anthem, his forthcoming new musical podcast, along with intimate and amusing anecdotes from the past two decades.

It’s been 20 years since the world first met Hedwig, a character created by Mitchell in a drag show he was performing in New York. With cultural products like Ru Paul’s Drag Race so popular now, does Mitchell think Hedwig helped usher in a new age of mainstream appreciation for drag?

“I’ve never thought of us as particularly seminal,” Mitchell says. “And we’re probably not in the direct lineage leading to Drag Race. I credit Priscilla and To Wong Foo more.

“Certainly the world has finally accepted that the glorious and natural variation of gender and sexuality makes the world a much more interesting place than we used to admit.”

Over the years, Mitchell has devoted plenty of energy to building such a world. Proceeds from the Hedwig charity tribute album Wig in a Box went to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of the Harvey Milk High School in New York which supports young people who have experienced homophobic and gender identity discrimination and violence at home or in other public schools to complete their secondary education. Wig in a Box (named for a song on the Hedwig soundtrack) epitomises the singalong, communal effect of Hedwig & the Angry Inch. Asked for a favourite song the tribute album, Mitchell responds: “Probably The Breeders’ ‘Wicked Little Town’”, and adds that he also loved Frank Black’s take on Sugar Daddy.

As well as loving their music, Mitchell counts The Breeders sisters Kim and Kelley Deal as friends, and believes his connections to Kim and Pixies frontman Charles Thompson IV (known by stage names Black Francis and later Frank Black), resulted in the latter’s band reuniting in 2004.

“The Deal sisters [Breeders members Kim and Kelley Deal] have become buddies. I love them.”

In fact, says Mitchell, “I think we were somewhat responsible for getting the Pixies [a band both Kim Deal and Frank Black were in] back together because Frank and Kim hadn’t spoken in a while and he asked our producer for her number.”

It’s just another instance of Hedwig’s magic, he suggests. “Hedwig reuniting bands worldwide.”

An Adelaide audience, listening to Hedwig in a small capital city situated at the bottom of the world, might feel particular resonance with a song like Wicked Little Town.

“I do feel the emotional impact of Hedwig more in places far from home,” Mitchell reflects. “Mexico City, Seoul, Tokyo … perhaps I’ll feel it in Adelaide. “The Wicked Little Town can be felt inside even in a big city. It’s a state of mind.”

Outside of his show, Mitchell says he is determined to see his buddy Patti Lupone at the Cabaret Festival [Don’t Monkey with Broadway (June 21)].

“As we both joke: ‘we used to be tours de force, now we’re forced to tour!’” he laughs.

Mitchell also recommends Amber Martin’s celebrated Janis Joplin show [Janis: Undead (Festival Centre June 8-10)], while Martin also happens to guest star in Mitchell’s The Origin of Love.

John Cameron Mitchell: The Origin of Love
Friday June 22, 8pm
Festival Theatre
adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au

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