Those who didn’t catch Yul Brenner in “The King and I” or Carol Channing in “Hello, Dolly!” — whether in the original productions or any of the countless times they returned to those roles — now have the opportunity to see John Cameron Mitchell in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Mitchell, who originated the character of Hedwig — a transsexual, German, glam singer-songwriter — when the show premiered at a small theater in Greenwich Village in 1998, has taken over the rock musical’s Tony-winning Broadway revival.
He co-conceived the character of Hedwig, wrote the musical’s book and directed its 2001 film version, in which he played Hedwig. As the book-writer, it should come as no surprise that Mitchell has added plenty of new lines.
The Broadway revival opened a year ago with a physically and vocally dynamic performance by Neil Patrick Harris, who was then followed by Andrew Rannells (“The Book of Mormon,” HBO’s “Girls”) and Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”).
While fans hoped that Mitchell, now 51 years old, would play Hedwig again, some wondered whether he could whether he could still handle the outsized, extremely demanding and draining role.
Soon after joining the revival, Mitchell sustained a knee injury mid-performance. After taking a week off to rest, Mitchell is back, sporting a brace and using a crate to rest his leg. He even came up with a backstory for the injury, in which Hedwig was attacked by a masked assailant.
Mitchell’s performance represents the difference between merely playing a character and being a character. With raw spontaneity, he truthfully embodies all of Hedwig’s anger, self-pity, bravery and wit.
Halfway into the performance, he looks exhausted. He also struggles vocally. But strangely enough, all that adds a realistic edge to the character, who is supposed to be on the verge of a complete breakdown. Mitchell may not be as much of a showman as Neil Patrick Harris, but Mitchell truly is Hedwig.
That also creates a clear contrast between Hedwig and his young protégé Yitzhak (the luminous Lena Hall), who is ready to step out of Hedwig’s shadow and shine.
If you go: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” plays an open run at the Belasco Theatre. 111 W. 44th St., telecharge.com.