"I wanted a Transformers dress," John Cameron Mitchell told a packed house of screaming fans at the Moore Theatre last night, after singing "The Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the musical he directed and starred in (and wrote with Stephen Trask).
"Whoever can guess how many dresses it becomes gets nothing," he added, to laughter. Then someone helped him remove those wings on each arm, and someone else handed him a bottle of water, and Mitchell pulled a green straw from a side compartment in the dress to drink with. "I can't find the hole," he said, to more laughter. "There it is." A pause. "Just like high school."
"Am I Hedwig or am I me?" he said at another point, rhetorically. The whole night was like this—songs, jokes, meta-commentary, more songs, a Bowie cover, even more songs, a plug of his new podcast, then even more songs (the night lasted almost three hours, no intermission)—drizzled with name-dropping.
I'll bold the names to make this paragraph easier to read. Bea Arthur was "in tears" when she came to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the now-defunct Jane Street theater in the West Village. Danny DeVito came. Patti LuPone came. Madonna and Elliott Smith came on the same night. ("He was a nice guy and she was a bitch. What? She was.") Glenn Close came to see it 10 times. ("And I would whisper in her ear: 'Are you close?'") David Bowie came to see it ("He shined his smile like a lighthouse") but he didn't climb the six stories to see Mitchell in his dressing room after the show. Lou Reed did climb the stairs, though: "Lou said, 'You were beautiful,' and I could have fucking died."
No one was really sure, before the show, what we were going to get. A couple of gay guys I was chatting with outside the theater thought it was a full production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It was not. It was the creator of Hedwig talking about where his masterpiece of a musical came from, singing songs from the show, singing other songs because he felt like it, and bantering and just generally being a genius.
He talked about where the character Hedwig came from (she's loosely based on a babysitter he had when he was a kid), how he met his musical collaborator Stephen Trask (they were both on an airplane and they were the only two people not watching the in-flight movie, When Harry Met Sally), where the lyrics to "Origin of Love" came from (when Mitchell was explaining the content of Plato's Symposium, audience members who clearly haven't read The Symposium started laughing, thinking he was joking, and when Plato's name got cheers, Mitchell pointed into the crowd and said, "Some relatives of Plato are here actually"), and what the first performance of songs from Hedwig back in the day was like ("Our first gig was vastly over-prepared and deeply half-assed").
It was glorious hearing the man himself sing the songs in his low, velvety voice. Also glorious? Just listening to the man talk.
"This microphone smells like Jinkx Monsoon," he said, referring to the RuPaul's Drag Race winner (and former Seattleite) who memorably deep-throated the microphone at the Moore when she played Hedwig on this same stage a few years back. Mitchell looked like he was considering deep-throating it himself, but he resisted.
"Could be worse. Could be Dina Martina," he cracked. "She's probably here." (In fact, Dina was there—well, Dina's out-of-drag alter-ego, Grady West, was seen at one point from across the room. But Jinkx lives in San Francisco now.)
"Somebody FaceTime with Jinkx," Mitchell added. "It doesn't smell like her mouth."
Can you tell I took notes? I took lots of notes. All I did was take notes. I was scribbling the whole time. Here's some more of what came out of Mitchell's mouth:
• On actress Helena Bonham Carter: "That's my favorite drag name: Helluva Bottom Carter."
• On Seattle vs. Portland: "It's like Sweden and Denmark, right? What's the fucking difference?"
• On the service dog sitting in the front row: "Oh look, it's a service dog. I'm going to get that dog up here to service me."
• On Bernie Sanders: "I'll take him!"
• On what he used to do during the original run of Hedwig: "We were off-Broadway and the bathroom was right next to the stage. And sometimes I would follow people into the bathroom with my handheld microphone and I would interview them during the show. You know: 'Number one or number two?' I can't do that anymore. It's one of the downsides of success."
• On the backstage area in that flophouse-turned-theater: "Our dressing room was where RuPaul used to live. I could see the Statue of Liberty from my dressing room."
• On the internet: "I don't think without the internet we could have the president we have today."
• On reading: "I read that people who read fiction have more empathy than people who read the news. I read that on HuffPo."
• On the Holocaust: "I lost an uncle at Auschwitz. He fell out of a guard tower." And then, in response to the laughter mixed with disgust: "What? Too soon?"
• On the patriarchy in the Bible: "In most cultures, it's more acceptable to be a murderer than a woman."
• On the personal significance of his collaboration with Trask: "Stephen and I found our other halves in Hedwig."
As for the crowd-surfing... I'm sorry, I have 300 horribly blurry photos of it on my phone, and not a single crisp one. It was dark!
"That was a great moment," the musician Major Scales said after the show. "I was worried he’d be thrown into the sound booth."
Alas, I don't have video of ALL of the crowd-surfing, but I do have video of the first half of his voyage. I hope everyone washed their hands!