“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a cult classic with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask ’89, opened on Broadway to rave reviews this month, 16 years after its original run off-Broadway in 1998. Trask, who also did orchestration for the show, tells The Wall Street Journal how much times have changed since then:
When Mitchell and composer Stephen Trask tried to court the mainstream theaters with the show in 1998, not a single theater wanted to house “Hedwig.”
“Only a few months before our 1998 off-Broadway debut at the Jane Street Theater, there was no theater,” Trask wrote in an email to Speakeasy. “Instead there was an abandoned, derelict ballroom at a flop-house SRO hotel. Peter Askin, our director and producer, built the stage, bought some old movie theater seats, and made that theater for us because no one would have us. The Public? No. New York Theater Workshop? No. The theater on 8th Ave that had been empty for two years: they turned US down. And forget about Broadway. Theaters recoiled at the rock music that actually sounded like rock. They weren’t so fond of the drag element, much less the trans element. The combination was deadly. And frankly, we were just too queer.”
But the Jane Street Theatre did finally stage “Hedwig,” and the show began to catch on.
“It was a very, very slow build,” Trask said. “We slowly built a coalition of the sliver of theatergoers who didn’t mind the drag and the punk rock, the rockers who didn’t mind the drag and the theater, the gay audiences who didn’t mind the rock music.”
Eventually, “Hedwig” would manage a solid run of 857 performances to ever-growing acclaim. So much acclaim that Mitchell was able to produce and star in the feature film. No small feat, at a time when gay characters, let alone transgender characters, were rarely portrayed on screen.