John Cameron Mitchell – The Origin Of Love @ Festival Theatre, Adelaide 22/6/2018

Hedwig & the Angry Inch Belasco Theatre Production Credits: Michael Mayer (Direction) Spencer Liff (Musical Staging) Julian Crouch (Scenic Design) Arianne Phillips (Costume Design) Kevin Adams (Lighting Design) Timothy O’Heir (Sound Design) Ethan Popp (Music Supervision) John Cameron Mitchell Lena Hall Other Credits: Lyrics by: Stephen Trask Music by: Stephen Trask Book by John Cameron Mitchell

Following the opening and title song Origin of Love, John Cameron Mitchell does an extended monologue contextualising the songs and creation of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the musical and subsequent film that brought him to wider recognition. This is the first show of John Cameron Mitchell’s Australian tour and the debut of this “show” which he describes as “a foetus”. He refers to this as his “mum tour” to help pay for her Alzheimer’s care. He is kind of joking but there is substance behind his flippant comments as he continues to briefly criticise the American Healthcare system.

For some, this may have been the first time they have been able to see John Cameron Mitchell performing the songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch live but it must be emphasized that this is not that show. Although not purported to be a performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it also kind of is with John in the iconic wig (by Mike Potter) and a suitable outfit to match (by Erik Bergrin), the Statue of Liberty through a filter of Cubism with alterations made throughout the show by removing portions. While the musicians (keys, drums, bass and guitar) remain relatively anonymous, Amber Martin (most recently in her own show at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Janis: Undead) provides backing and lead vocals.

The show is basically a run-through of the Hedwig canon with John providing a commentary regarding the inspiration and development and explaining the meaning of the songs and the origin of the themes with interjections including aspects of his own life and upbringing. He reminisces about meeting Hedwig composer Stephen Trask on a plane with Trask putting a Fassbinder biography between them as an icebreaker. He describes the awe of performing for (at various times) his heroes and inspirations Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. There are references to Jack (Steeb, his departed partner who played bass in the Angry Inch band) and there’s even a seemingly out of context mention of former Adelaide Cabaret Festival director Barry Humpries with a passing impersonation of Dame Edna Everage. At one point, there’s mention of the ignorant and offensive idea by some critics and reviewers that Hedwig and the Angry Inch had been early to join the transgender fluidity trend, discounting that it is a process and an actual journey for the individuals concerned.

Among the songs familiar to Hedwig devotees such as the beautiful and moving Wicked Little Town and the Monkees-ish singalong Wig In A Box, the additional material performed includes the “outtake” Milford Lake. Mid-set, John leaves the stage allowing Amber Martin to perform two songs, the first being a faithful cover of Ziggy Stardust, which is fitting given David Bowie’s flirtation with gender fluidity and the backdrop of Berlin during his HeroesLow era.

In his asides, the monologues take a somewhat philosophical turn with John crediting Plato’s Symposium and in particular Aristophane’s speech as the inspiration for The Origin of Love and the story that became Hedwig and the Angry Inch. There’s also a discussion of the religion of Christianity with John revealing that Gnostic gospels were ones that didn’t quite make the cut of the Christian Gospels.

Midnight Radio brings the show to a close, starting like the Velvet Underground’s Stephanie Says before seguing into an almost rewrite of Bowie’s Rock ’N’ Roll Suicide. Returning for the encore, John exclaims “My voice is shot” before asking “What’s Canberra like?” (regarding the next show) to which Amber Martin replies “I hear it’s like an Escher painting”. During the next song John performs a failed mic-stand bounce-and-catch, commenting about being under rehearsed before fully embracing the mistake and channelling an out of control Hedwig by deliberately knocking down his mic stand and losing his lyrical cliff notes into the front rows which the audience grab as keepsakes. He then proceeds to run to the other side of the stage, knocking Amber’s music stand and scattering her song sheets across the stage. The final song is The End of Love, a preview from the musical Anthem but before he can start, John requires a woman in the front row to hand back the sheets containing that song’s lyrics while the audience laughs.

With any stage debut, there may be some fine tuning required and although Adelaide got to see it first and it was thoroughly enjoyable, I am doubtful that this will be the best performance of The Origin of Love The Songs and Stories of Hedwig. I am envious of the other states with their shows to follow but also at the same time thankful.

Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review by Jason Leigh

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