“Anthem”: John Cameron Mitchell’s Musical Features Glenn Close and Patti LuPone

Written by | Entertainment, Music

Anthem Podcast

For years, John Cameron Mitchell has been asked — and asked himself — will there ever be a sequel to Hedwig and the Angry Inch?

Well, yes. And no.

At 56, Mitchell is busier than ever. He’s currently playing a meanie gay boss on the Netflix series Shrill. He still tours intermittently as Hedwig in The Origin of Love, a show about the gestation of his alter-ego and musical. And he’s developed a sequel of sorts to his show that now exists as a musical: without visuals.

An Alternate Reality

Mitchell explained it all over coffee recently in the West Village. “I had an idea to create a sequel to Hedwig that would also involve a lot more of my own personal history,” he explains. “But ultimately it felt like too much: I took the idea of a character out of his insurance crowd-funding for his life and created in effect an alternate alternative history biography. In this case, my character never left my small town of Junction City Kansas. That’s where I’m from, and “Wicked Little Town” name checks it in Hedwig.

He calls Junction City “a special small town — but not anywhere you’d wanna stay, So it’s kind of a What If story. What if I was the same person, had not shared my creative work, not come out, and not taken the chances I did?”

More From Metrosource

Anthem: Homunculus examines all of that, says the artist. “Included in all of that is my boyfriend Jack, who passed away from his addictions. In a way I had more opportunities before me than a standard autobiography; something more creative. But there are a lot of liberties taken. Patti LuPone, who I adore, is in the cast, and Glenn plays a version of my Mom. She’s a Scottish painter who travels the world. She’s a lost a child, as my my brother was lost after he had heart problems and died when he was four. She reacts by becoming more religious — an anti-abortion activist, among other things.”

So, Anthem did begin life as an extension of Mitchell’s musical, but eventually became more a departure point. “It certainly started out as Hedwig sequel,” he laughs. “Then I wrote it as a television series in 10 parts. We pitched it to the usual suspects in Hollywood, but it was just too weird for them. If I brought Hedwig it still has to fit into preexisting genres.”

Midnight Radio Redux

Ultimately, a New York company called Topic Studios said they understood Mitchell’s vision and wanted to help bring it to fruition. “These are the same people who worked on Spotlight and Missing Richard Simmons,” says Mitchell. “They were the only company that said, just from the pitch, we want to do it. We trust you. So I quickly adapted the script to taking a larger canvas and limiting it to audio.”

Without the benefit of visuals and with budgetary constraints to consider, Mitchell reconfigured his story again. “But it happened quickly,” he says, “and it was fun. I started casting, and there are always too many talented people. Not that many tasty scripts. So while they do their money jobs and Hedwig fans like Patty Cynthia Aribo (of The Color Purple) because it’s a podcast could do a whole series in a couple of days, could squeeze us into their busy schedules.”

“Our hardest challenge was the character who plays my boyfriend Jairo and I saw him as a bi-racial character from Brazil. I wanted to cast everyone in the audio piece at the right age, right ethnicity, and all of that. I couldn’t find anyone in Brazil, and then I read about this film called The Wound with Nakhane, a singer form South Africa. He got a lot of death threats, because it was a queer story in a tribal setting, and that upset a lot of people. But he’s a brilliant musician and actor.”

South African actor Nakhane

Peas in a Podcast

Mitchell felt an instant kinship with him. “We’re part of the same tribe,” Mitchell likes to say. “He’s truly brilliant and his album is now out in the US. So, with the help of First Look, my composer Bryan Weller and I recorded our actors and musicians over a couple of months.”

Anthem: Homunculus is now complete and currently streaming in podcast form. In its final form, Mitchell says the project includes some 40 actors performing 40 pieces of music, “all in different styles while trying to create a new form that is really a modern take on the radio serial.”

In launching the series, Mitchell has partnered with Luminary, a new podcast network that he says “aims to be the Netflix of the podcast world. They have a subscription model, so that makes larger budgets are possible.
So we’re an experiment, kind of Luminary’s House of Cards. The hope is that people who want to support groundbreaking audio will join in.”

Want Metrosource LGBTQ content notifications? Sign up for MetroEspresso.

Last modified: May 10, 2019