As you may or may not know, Neil Patrick Harris is opening a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, performing in the titular role, and he looks fabulous. If you’re not familiar with the material, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a 1998 musical written by and starring John Cameron Mitchell. Hedwig tells the story of an East German singer who goes to great lengths to marry an American soldier and leaves for the United States to pursue her dreams and a better life. Those great lengths include a botched sex-change operation, leaving Hedwig with the titular “angry inch”. Eventually, she makes it to the United States, but in a perfect storm of insult and injury, her husband leaves her on the day she learns that the Berlin Wall has fallen. The real meat of the story is in how she uses love and rock n’ roll to recover from that and pursues her own identity. The Obie Award-winning musical originally ran for 857 performances, and has since seen performances in no fewer than eleven countries.
Once is a new Broadway musical hit that won eight Tony awards, including Best Musical. I’m sure some of you knew that in the back of your minds. But what you probably didn’t know was that it was based on a movie, which I recently got the chance to watch.
Once is a story about a young(ish) Irish man who works in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop and plays his guitar on the street for cash in his free time. He enjoys composing in the evenings when he’s not outside. It’s on his street corner where he meets a fairly young woman from Eastern Europe who also has a love for music. They strike up a friendship and the man becomes motivated to chase after his dreams: becoming a musician in London.
The reason I didn’t give any names here is because their names are never said in the movie. Even on the IMDB page they are listed as “guy” and “girl”. I think that adds a lot to the story now that I think about it. In a sense, it makes the story more relatable; anyone could be this guy and any girl could be that girl.
Now this isn’t the type of musical with over the top theatrics. There’s no song and dance. No gigantic chorus. Just some guy and some girl with a guitar and a piano (that the girl plays in the music store because she can’t afford her own) playing some tunes. And they’re beautiful. I think I’m in an ever-shrinking minority when I say I love simpler music more than complicated things. I don’t like my music auto-tuned to the nines; I don’t need seventy-six trombones in my orchestra. And the songs in this movie were just that, simple music, with simple and pretty lyrics, and beautifully sung.
I didn’t know what this movie was about going in, and it honestly surprises me that it was turned into a stage production. It’s not a lot of story; the entire plot takes place over the course of a seemingly short week. But what the story lacks in over-the-top theatrics it makes up for in honest charm.
Hopefully I can see Once sometime soon when the cheap tickets come out of the woodwork. Until then, I’m just going to have to keep myself content with YouTube clips like the one below.
So I finally saw the Beauty and the Beast musical for the first time about a month ago. I didn’t like it, but of course that doesn’t mean much since most of my posts are about how I don’t like things. To clarify, I love the original movie. I think it’s fantastic, but I don’t believe it translated well, and maybe it was just the performance I saw, but I thought the play lost the original tone and epicness of the movie. It didn’t feel committed to telling the story it was based off. To be fair, plot-wise, it’s exactly the same. Everything else, however, completely differed.
I know that movies and musical performances are two very different mediums and that not everything done in one can be done in another, so I was expecting it to vary on some level, but not to the extent that it did. For the most part, what I can say about the musical is that it captures the visuals of the movie very well. Seeing them actually raise the beast and transform him at the end sends chills down my spine. All the magic of the movie came across in the play, and it was awesome.
That said, nothing else came across well. Some of the criticism of the movie is that Belle suffers from Stockholm syndrome, and I personally disagree with this. I can see the argument behind it, but I never thought that was the case. Whatever the original Disney film did to avoid that did not show up in the play. Maybe that’s because in the play the Beast, who’s obviously abusive, never learns to be more respectful until after Belle starts being nice. This doesn’t happen until after he saves her from the wolves, but Belle’s reaction is to suddenly fall in love with the man holding her prisoner. Her starting to like him is what brings out his kindness, as opposed to in the movie when his slowly blooming kindness brings out her like in him.
Furthermore, while the movie seemed very aware of the precarious positions it put the characters in, the musical did not. It turned everyone but Belle into comic relief characters. Everyone. Even the Beast. Gags flew around in every scene but the very first and the very last. With those exceptions, never once did the show break from the comic relief to have a more serious moment, and instead it turned the serious moments into jokes.
In fact, because the ending didn’t have any jokes marring it like the rest of the show, it felt like a different play. Because the musical never takes any time to develop and work with any of the serious scenes, Gaston’s death didn’t fit in anymore.
Speaking of Gaston, he was probably the only character in the play to not be completely insufferable as a comic relief character, and a lot of that has to do with how he’s presented in the movie and my not liking him than it does a good decision on the play’s part.
But for everything else? The humor just wouldn’t go away. Watching the Beast whimper in pain like a kicked puppy while Belle tends his arm after the wolf attack was just degrading. I want you to understand that when I say every opportunity made a joke, I mean every opportunity.
While Beauty and the Beast may have been more family friendly as a children’s movie, that was not the case in the play. These jokes were designed very much with only small kids in mind, which confuses the overall tone when they added all the over-the-top sexual innuendos between Lumiere and Featherduster. They didn’t stop. Constantly, they were at it, suggestively telling each other what they wanted to do offstage. And maybe something like that will go over a small child’s head, but they took the extra step to make Featherduster’s outfit as provocative as possible.
So we had these two, and then we had a bunch of childish jokes. And because of all this, it wasn’t really family friendly, nor can I tell what age group they were aiming for with their audience. Obviously, there were a lot of children at the theatre, but there were just so many adult-only suggestions in the play.
I know some of this may be nitpicking, and for the most part, people Online seem to love it, so I’m possibly in a small minority of people who hated this play. The music was great, the acting with the given roles was fantastic, and it didn’t hold back from trying to capture the magic in the movie, but for the other things, I most certainly could have done without.