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Look of the Week: Riverdale goes glitter and glam with Hedwig
Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
Riverdale exists in a world resembling our own, but with a deep injection of pop culture into every facet. Each week takes us on a wild ride that asks us to suspend our disbelief — including the recent Stonewall Prep murder conspiracy, Archie's (KJ Apa) battle with a bear, multiple serial killers, and a speakeasy run by teens located underneath a diner. There have been black-market organ-selling cults, a deadly RPG, and songs sung at the Leopold and Loeb Juvenile Detention Center football games.
If you try and explain the show to someone who has never watched, you will likely be met with a look of incredulity, which is why the whole musical format makes so much sense. Bursting into song as a way to express feelings and move the plot along is a stylized version of reality that often blurs genre, which is exactly what Riverdale excels at.
The first two musical episodes delivered an homage to teen classics infused with horror. Bell-bottom jeans and tight tees evoked the 1970s in the depiction of the Carrie musical, and last season delivered preppy plaid realness with Riverdale High's take on Heathers. The variety show event in Season 4 marks Jughead's (Cole Sprouse) return to school after he faked his death, but all eyes should be turned toward the blonde-wig-wearing Kevin (Casey Cott) in his brilliant tribute to the multiple-Tony-award-winning Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Rather than putting on the whole Broadway experience, Kevin just wants to perform one song from the critically acclaimed stage show. After he is met with resistance from Mr. Honey (Kerr Smith), he explains why Hedwig isn't a niche choice. "It celebrates identities, genders, expressions of all kinds. And it speaks to my entire generation." An explosion of denim, fringe, glitter, and blonde wigs follows in one of the most ambitious costume sequences of the entire series.
First performed off-Broadway in 1998, John Mitchell Cameron wrote and starred as Hedwig (both on stage and in the 2001 film version), a genderqueer East German cabaret singer telling their story through song. Music and lyrics were written by Stephen Trask, who also suggested Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa tackle this adaptation. "The episode is about teenagers breaking away. And that's what Hedwig is about — breaking away from the binary worlds of straight and gay or cis or trans or male and female," Trask said, in an interview with Rolling Stone.
It hasn't been easy for Kevin over the last few seasons; he lost his identity when he joined the Farm cult, and recently he has become embroiled in the world of tickle porn. Basically, Kevin needed a victory, and Mr. Honey denying his choice of artistic expression was not going to stand.
Thankfully, Kevin has a supportive network and a group of friends who will always choose an audacious performance over conforming to the rules. Costume designer Rebekka Sørensen-Kjelstrup went all-in on the '80s denim, which includes the standout double-sided cape extravaganza.
A denim patched romper, fishnet tights, silver platform boots, and French curls (or a Farrah Fawcett flip) ensure all eyes are on Kevin during his Hedwig entrance. Rather than backing down, Mr. Honey doubles down on his threats, which leads to a peaceful protest featuring most of the cast in Hedwig attire. It is a striking image of solidarity that also showcases the costume department's penchant for creating pieces out of denim, metallics, rhinestones, patches, and glitter. Arianne Phillips designed the costumes for the 2001 movie and the 2014 Broadway revival, winning a Tony for the latter, so these were big glam rock boots to fill.
Sørensen-Kjelstrup did just that, kitting out the main cast and background actors with an array of denim looks that fit the period of the musical, had a homemade aesthetic, and looked like they came right from Hedwig's closet. Reggie (Charles Melton), Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) all get in on the iconic costume action. Meanwhile, Fangs (Drew Ray Tanner) — who has already been Kevin's biggest cheerleader in this episode — crushes it in silver pants, matching platforms and not much as else as he joins Kevin during the electric performance of "Tear Me Down."
Softening some of Hedwig's edges by focusing too much time on the Archie/Betty drama is an unfortunate side effect, as this episode soars when Kevin is in focus — putting a premium on self-expression, identity, and confidence. And while Honey bans the variety show, luckily Veronica (Camila Mendes) has a venue big enough to host the event. A final performance of "Midnight Radio" sees everyone back in their regular attire, which at first feels like a step down from the heightened Hedwig-inspired costumes, but it ends up emphasizing the fact that these kids have a safe environment to celebrate who they are.
This message of holding onto each other in whatever fabulous attire you want to wear is an important one, both during the current crisis and at whatever point it ends. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is over 20 years old now, but it continues to inspire and reach new audiences. TV teens are drawn to it — Netflix's Sex Education also featured Hedwig cosplay — and Kevin explains early in the episode why it is so important. This line was written before the lockdown, but it feels even more apt now: "We are relentlessly slammed with crisis after crisis. And we take it, and we're numb, yes. But we are screaming on the inside."
Put on some makeup, turn on the tape deck (or alternative song playing device), and pull a wig down from the shelf. It's what Hedwig (and Kevin) would want.