It's a sad day for Broadway when Neil Patrick Harris dons his notorious blonde wigs and platform boots for the last time on Aug. 17 —his final night onstage in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" at the Belasco Theatre. However, all is not lost, because another virtuoso is taking over the titular role: Andrew Rannells ("Book of Mormon").
At a press meet for the cast change, we spoke to Rannells, who takes over as the would-be glam rock superstar through Oct. 12. We also interviewed his co-star Lena Hall, who won a Tony Award this year for her portrayal of Yitzhak, the husband of Hedwig.
The two actors were accompanied by the show's creator, John Cameron Mitchell, who originated the role of Hedwig off-Broadway and starred in the cult classic film, as well as Stephen Trask, who composed the music to such hits from the play as "Wicked Little Town" and "The Origin of Love."
Lena Hall, on Andrew Rannells
You have a changing of the guard, Andrew’s joining the team. How does that feel for you, to be working with someone new?
It’s exciting. It’s also sad, because I have to see my first "wife" go. And you know, the first divorce is always the hardest. [Laughs] But it’s fun, it’ll be a new energy. It’ll kind of change the show a little, it’ll be like doing a whole new thing. So it’s gonna stay fresh and fun, and exciting. And that’s really cool.
Do you get to be the boss and take Andrew under your wing, and show him how it all works?
Yes, but at the same time, I want him to use me for whatever he needs. I want him not to feel like he has to do what Neil did. I want him to create his own new stuff, and to include me in that. And I will change to him, because – you know, this is “Hedwig.” This is his show. He’s got to take the reins, and he will, I have no doubt. And then tell me what he wants from me.
This is going to open the show up to new audiences and also gives people who saw it the excuse to come back.
Oh my God, well I know so many people who have seen it already and they want to see it again, simply because they want to see the show again. So I know a lot of people who are huge fans of Andrew’s, who want to come see Andrew do it, but who saw Neil.
And then all the Hedheads [devoted fans of the show] love coming and seeing different people playing Hedwig. They love comparing and contrasting — and what’s so exciting about the part is that, well, it’s written, it’s all down in stone, but the role is really up for interpretation by the actor.
So it’s not going to be carbon copy. And this creative team would not allow it either. So it’s going to be very individualized, it’ll be a very different show. It’ll still be “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” but it’ll be a new, fresh take on it, something people haven’t seen.
Andrew Rannells, on becoming 'Hedwig'
This show must be exhausting. Do you think this is one of the most physically challenging shows you’ve ever done, that most people ever do?
It’s certainly a mini marathon. There’s a part of me that — I mean, it is only 90 minutes, so that feels like a cheat, a little bit, because, like, the “Book of Mormon” was such a beast of a show to do every night, and it was two and a half hours. So in some ways, this is like, oh, well, you know. [Shrugs]
I remember as we started doing run-throughs of the show, we would get to the end of it, and I was like, "Oh, is that it? Are we done? That’s one act. Not so bad."
Have you changed up any forms of exercise, physicality?
I mean the workout stuff, I kind of stopped lifting weights because it doesn’t seem like — you don’t want Hedwig to be too bulky. But I mean, the show in itself is kind of its own diet. You’re putting out so much energy and burning so many calories in that little burst of time for that show that [performing] in itself is a pretty damn good workout.
What about vocally? How would you say this compares to “Book of Mormon,” because the range is all over the place, female and male, in this show.
You know, “Book of Mormon” vocally was a hard show, for me. I loved singing it, I loved singing that music – it’s very high. That’s very high male singing. So this feels really nice, because it all sits at a much lower place in my voice.
It feels good. It feels good to sing this music, it doesn’t feel stressful, it doesn’t freak me out that I’m not going to be able to do it. And there were certainly times in “Book of Mormon” where [it was really hard to sing night after night] — and it was my own damn fault, because those keys were my idea, so I had no one to blame but myself for singing so high.
But this feels nice, singing.
Lena said she’s taking a lot of cues from you, and she wants you to have the room to play and make it your own. Do you get that sense from the entire production team, that they really want you to move away from Neil?
I feel like what they learned with that original production — because it had so many Hedwigs after John, and the show was so successful — that the show changes a little bit with every actor. There’s not a way to tell the story without putting your own stamp on it, and allowing your personality to come out through this character.
So everyone’s going to be a little different, I feel like John and Stephen really get that, and they know that, and they know it’s not going to be a carbon copy of what Neil did. So that’s exciting, and it’s very nice to be trusted, and feel like you have room to sort of play with that.
When you saw Neil doing it, did you already have this in your line of sight?
Yes, I’d just come back to New York, so I hadn’t seen the production yet. But [director] Michael Mayer called to talk to me about it, he said “Please come see the show,” so I saw it immediately, maybe two days after he called. So it was in the back of my mind, as I was watching it, that I was like, “Is that something I can do, is it something I want to do?” and of course the answer was "Yes! I definitely want to do this."