From the clubland of Soho to Off Broadway to London’s West End and Broadway, the musical tale and stage success of Hedwig – an East German genderqueer singer stricken by surgical gaffes and existential dilemmas – has gone from her officially launched in 1998, from cult status to mainstream, incredible and captivating audiences without losing its underground DIY feel or appeal.
According to composer Stephen Trask, the co-creator of Handdwig and the angry thumb and the live band leader of his original staging, that was the goal from the start: to challenge identity and gender divides, elevate queer culture, and make rock and roll a safe space for all that isn’t. not binary. How Trask and Hedwig singer, actor and co-creator John Cameron Mitchell got there in the first place is the subject of Back to The Origin of Love: The Songs and Stories of Hedwig taking over City Hall (123 West 43rd Street, between 6th Ave and Broadway) for a two-night adventure, Dec. 29-30. (http://thetownhall.org/upcoming).
Dryly humorous Trask had a busy pandemic season before returning to the stage for Back to the origin of love.
Although his most recent musical, a version of Martin Scorsese’s 1982 Robert DeNiro/Jerry Lewis film, The king of comedyis on hold due to producer and director changes (“We parted ways with the first director because he never showed up for the first reading”), Trask just appeared as himself in the new Netflix film by his colleague Lin-Manuel Miranda Check. Check…BOOM!.
By adapting the autobiographical story of the late great Jonathan Larson (the author/composer of Rent), Miranda marked his BOOM! film with real-life theater practitioners such as Stephen Schwartz, Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, the late Stephen Sondheim (as a voice on the phone) and Trask – the latter passing in a blur of faces.
“Lin thought it would be fun if real, recognizable people from the world of musical theater participated in the filming, so we started filming during the pre-vaccine Covid, and it was like we were working for NASA, walking into a clean room before getting on a rocket to the moon,” jokes Trask. “We were enveloped like astronauts…. It wasn’t normal, but it was fun.
Trask also talks about the versions of the road show he witnessed Hedwig like a recent run in Lexington, Kentucky, where a “drag queen who had studied acting and opera” played the lead role. “It was an extremely weird take on the role… moving forward, it’s important to me that the show be as weird as ours, because we were gay and we were punk.” Thinking about the future of staging Hedwig, Trask says he would like to see the musical staged again for Broadway. “I would even like him to come back to Broadway with Neil (Patrick Harris, the 2014 revival of Hedwig from the Great White Way). Like the Lexington version, Hedwig needs a real show-person up front, someone who can juggle all the balls. Plus, the audience is now so much cooler than me. This has never been the case. »
Come back to BOOM! collection of Broadway greats, to think of Trask and Mitchell as part of the grand tradition of musical theater when they were once punk rock kids themselves is daunting. “A lot of times directors and producers don’t seem to understand me or my writing,” Trask says with a laugh. “It’s not like it was back then, like I was an underdog. When I make an intentional decision as to where a song should go, I still don’t think most theater people understand where my process is coming from… Then again, there’s a part of the theater community that loves Hedwig and the famous – probably for all the same reasons as people who hate us, hate us or hate my work.
When it comes to the Back to the origin of love‘s two nights at City Hall, Trask and Mitchell can only expect love from HedwigDevoted cult followers and mainstream music aficionados in their retelling of the show’s history.
“Our audience remembers and yearns for the story of that era,” says Trask, the first of New York’s glam and punk rock stories – from Lou Reed, to Richard Hell – that spawned Hedwig. “We started thinking about doing Back to the origin of love because John wanted to go on the road and weave a narrative on this show. People are interested in our history with this show If Check. Check….. BOOM! is an alternate account of the life of Jonathan Larson, our To return to show as Hedwig’s alternate retelling, about writing a musical. Because our songs work like concert songs, it’s natural, and it’s unusual. Hedwig did not come out of an order or an adaptation. Hedwig came out of our lives, out of what we were doing and thinking at the time. We went through the back door on our way to Broadway. People love to hear this story.