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Harris channels ‘Hedwig’ when audience acts unruly

Associated Press

Neil Patrick Harris as 'Hedwig' Photo: Frontiers LA
Neil Patrick Harris as ‘Hedwig’
Photo: Frontiers LA

NEW YORK — Neil Patrick Harris knows that his character Hedwig speaks directly to the audience throughout his Broadway show, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” So he understands how things can sometimes get unruly.

“Hedwig’s energy transfers itself into a dialogue with the audience. So if someone calls something out, it’s sort of my responsibility, in character, to make sure that that person knows that this isn’t the kind of show like ‘Rocky Horror,’ where I’m going to be bantering with them,” Harris said after the show’s opening on Tuesday.

Several times during previews, Harris responded to fans calling out to him as “Neil,” and his replies were just what you’d expect from Hedwig, sometimes laced with sassy expletives.

“That’s part of the job that I have to say, ‘All right,’ in character, ‘Settle it down girl, we’re in the middle of a show right now,” Harris said. “So that happened and people thought it was funny. I’ve done worse. She’s a tough girl that Hedwig.”

But the actor says his responses are never planned.

“I don’t come up with zingers and think, ‘I can’t wait to say something rude to this person,’ but sometimes things happen. That’s why it’s theater,” Harris said with a smile.

Theater is what the 40-year-old has always thrived on doing. He has three Broadway shows already under his belt, but he couldn’t do much during the past decade while he was starring in the highly successful sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother.”

He successfully hosted the Tony Awards four of the previous five years, but claimed that experience was too brief for him.

Harris got to do big numbers during the Tonys, and though he enjoyed the hard work, regardless of how well it went, he said “you’d never do it again.”

The actor last appeared on a Broadway stage in the 2004 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins.” He’s always wanted to return, but the time wasn’t right because of his day job.

“I didn’t want to finish (a season of) ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ and jump right into previews and rehearsals, and as soon as it was done go back to the show. I would have just been exhausted. I was anxious for them to not cast somebody else,” Harris acknowledged.

But all good things come to an end, and his sitcom recently had its finale, freeing him up to get back on stage.

Harris is savoring the experience of being in a Broadway show again.

“The repetition of it is what has drawn me to it,” he said.

The story of the Hedwig — the transgender East German performer and her tortured path from Berlin to a mobile home in Kansas to New York — was written by John Cameron Mitchell with music by Stephen Trask. It draws heavily from Mitchell’s personal life growing up as the son a U.S. Army General. Mitchell originally performed the title role in the cult musical in 1998 and starred in the film version in 2001.

Mitchell called Harris the perfect Hedwig.

“He’s got every skill necessary. The dancing and the singing and the comedy and the emotional weight, and also the extra dimension of Hedwig, who has to be a Queen, where she’s the top,” Mitchell said.

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Associated Press

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