"Wig In a Box": A Track-by-Track Breakdown of the Hedwig Broadway Cast Recording, With Neil Patrick Harris

By Richard Patterson
04 Jul 2014

Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris
Photo by Joan Marcus

The Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch took home four Tony Awards, including trophies for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical for Neil Patrick Harris, Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Lena Hall and Best Lighting Design of a Musical for Kevin Adams. Its brand-new cast album was released digitally in June, hot on the shiny heels of its big wins.

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Broadway favorite (and four-time former Tony Awards host) Neil Patrick Harris is back on stage in director Michael Mayer's new production of Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell's impassioned rock musical, which charts the journey of a transsexual "internationally ignored songstress." Playbill.com takes you through each track of the show's brand-new cast recording, which features Harris and Hall alongside their fantastically raucous on-stage band the Tits of Clay, which consists of Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Tim Mislock and Peter Yanowitz.

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"America the Beautiful"

Overtures are so not punk rock, so Hedwig starts with a rock 'n' roll shred guitar version of "America the Beautiful" as our transsexual songstress heroine descends from the rafters. The track is less than a minute, but it gives listeners a first introduction to Hedwig's gender-bending bandmate Yitzhak, played by Lena Hall, who begins with, "Ladies and gentlemen — whether you like it or not — Hedwig!"

"Tear Me Down"

Yitzhak is described as a former drag queen that Hedwig has forced to present in masculine attire. As such, he acts as a kind of emcee during the show's hard-rocking opening number, "Tear Me Down," which gives Neil Patrick Harris a first opportunity to truly own the stage and show off some attitude. The song alludes to the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 as a hated Cold War-era symbol of division. Yitzhak's spoken-work interlude at 1:42 announces that, "Hedwig is like that wall, standing before you in the divide between east and west, slavery and freedom, man and woman, top and bottom."

"The Origin of Love"

This track, which starts out softly and builds, borrows its bones from a speech from Plato's Symposium, turning the story of the origin of love into a tune with an almost Seussian sensibility (also reflected on stage in this production's animations by Benjamin Pearcy and 59 Productions). According to the story, people originally roamed the earth as four-legged creatures like "like two men [or two women, or a man and a woman] glued up back to back" until the gods split them in two out of spite. Now, supposedly, we're all left searching for our other halves. Listen at 2:25 for the moment when Harris' hitherto subdued performance breaks wide open as the song reaches its climax.

"Deutschlandlied"

Clocking in at just ten seconds, this track provides a guitar-and-drums transition into the segment of the show in which Hedwig discusses her childhood as a young "slip of a girlyboy" — then named Hansel — in East Berlin, who grew up obsessed with rock 'n' roll.

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