As soon as they enter the large hall of La Scala, spectators are warned of what awaits them. For 105 minutes, they will be totally disorientated, jostled and disheveled. On stage, a group of musicians tests some well-felt guitar riffs. Behind them, a Berlin Wall full of graffiti serves as a backdrop. The headlights of a dilapidated car flash in the darkness. The gauge is full, the spectators are on average between 20 and 45 years old. Many already know the show that they discovered at the Avignon off last summer or at the Café de la Danse in Paris this winter. Others got there through cinema, where the show was adapted in 2001 three years after its Broadway premiere. In Paris, the film was screened at the Cinémathèque Française during a retrospective of creator and director John Cameron Mitchell in October 2022.

In the front rows of La Scala, many young women wear a “Hedwig” tattoo. At 8:30 p.m. sharp, the punk rock sound erupts. Under the applause of her groupies in the front rows, the heroine, Hedwig, a transgender rock singer, bursts onto stage. Peroxide wig, torn denim outfit, makeup like a stolen car, Hedwig does not go unnoticed. The audience seated in the Scala is that of his concert. Between two live songs, she recounts her life in monologues that are as funny as they are moving. With an inordinate ego, Hedwig is brilliant, scathing, jealous, funny, romantic in the 19th century sense of Rimbaud and Verlaine. She questions questions of identity with a strong German accent and sprinkles her sentences with “ja”. Hedwig reminds us from afar of Maria Ulrika Von Glott, star in the 1990s of the show Ultima Récital by Marianne James and of Dr. Frank N Further (Tim Curry) of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

When the story begins, Hedwig is torn between two love stories. The first, the one with her husband’s singer, is struggling. It serves as sulfur pain. The second with a rock star who erased him from his life was his great misfortune. She chases him madly. He made a career in large venues by appropriating the hits written and composed by Hedwig. On the microphone, she no longer controls herself very well, looks back on her life with flashbacks and reveals all the things that hurt her. Victim of a terrible mother who takes her to East Berlin during the construction of the wall in 1961, Hedwig has the misfortune of meeting an American soldier. He orders the young man to become a woman by forcing him to have an operation. Let’s rather say mutilated by a failed surgeon. The centimeter of sex that remains is this “famous angry inch”. The American soldier forces him to wear a wig, dress as a woman and in exchange marries her. This is the price of freedom. He thus gives him American nationality. A passport that allows him to cross the wall without being assassinated and go live in a democracy. Once on American soil, Hedwig becomes disillusioned. She made all these sacrifices for nothing. She is abandoned in a mobile home. A lifelong fan of American rock singers whose cassettes were passed from West to East, she decided to become one. The misfortunes pile up. Each time, Hedwig gets back up. Until the grand finale of her concert where she makes a crucial decision. The vast majority of spectators finished on their feet, applauding wildly. Others are less understanding of the general craze and don’t like punk rock music.

Director Dominique Guillo had the good idea of ​​adapting John Cameron Mitchell’s monologues into French and leaving Stephen Trask’s songs in English. The lyrics scroll on a banner just above the singer’s head, which allows the viewer’s eye to not go back and forth between the banner and the stage. “I’ve wanted to adapt this show for nineteen years,” he says. Created off-Broadway in 1998 in a warehouse and adapted for the cinema by John Cameron Mitchell in 2001, a time when there was much less talk about LGBT people than today, the show remained on display for years, becoming a general public show. There we find those who are going to see The Phantom of the Opera. Many stars including Neil Patrick Harris (Barney in the series How I met your Brother) played Hedwig and the show was rewarded with four Tony Awards, the equivalent of the Oscars for live performance.

In this adaptation, Hedwig is played by Brice Hillairet, Molière’s best hopeful in 2020. “Dominique Guillo showed me the film a week before the confinement of March 2020 and I fell out of my chair,” says the actor. Singing, cross-dressing and the one-man show, he never did it. “It’s precisely going into new areas that appeals to me the most,” he says. In the summer of 2020, he sang two of the songs from the play to Dominique Guillo, Wigg in the box and Wicket Little Train. The two burst into tears and co-adapted the libretto. In 2022, they finally manage to convince a producer. In September 2022, the American rights holders validate the choice of Brice Hillairet of whom they received a studio video. Hedwig is already being performed in Canada, in Prague, it will be exported to France. “To establish the play side with a beginning, a middle and an end, I decided to present this creation at Off en Avignon in the summer of 2023,” says the director. Word of mouth catches on. The piece is performed for ten performances spread over time at the start of the school year in Paris at the Café de la Danse. Then it is on display at La Scala for six performances until May. This winter, she should return to the stage at La Scala before touring France, Switzerland and Belgium from January to April 2025.

At La Scala until May 6. Places from 19 to 55 euros.