The Genesis of Hedwig
By Jerry Portwood
Original production photo of 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' with John Cameron Mitchell and original cast | Photo courtesy of David Binder
Hedwig and the Angry Inch was never intended to be a Broadway musical with a TV star such as Neil Patrick Harris in the lead role. Before the stage show was made into a cult-favorite indie film financed by Christine Vachon’s Killer Films, before it was an Off-Broadway phenomenon with celebs donning the blond wig, the trans glam rock goddess from East Berlin was cooked up in in the early 1990s by John Cameron Mitchell at New York City’s drag-punk party SqueezeBox.
Stephen Trask headed the house band there and encouraged Mitchell to start developing the story. Mitchell had just originated the role of Dickon on Broadway in The Secret Garden, but this was fun: Not a drag queen act, Hedwig was glam rock, a queer character that channeled David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed mixed with Plato’s Symposium. The central story embedded in the moving, fiercely multiculti, fairy tale-like song-story "The Origin of Love" explains Hedwig’s urge to find her other half and feel whole.
David Binder, the producer of the current and original productions (along with the current Of Mice and Men Broadway revival starring James Franco and Chris O'Dowd), helped mount that initial show at the Westbeth Theatre Center in 1997 in a derelict ballroom that they rechristened the Jane Street Theatre. “The show still didn’t have a direction at first,” he explains. “It was just John and Stephen trying out some songs.” He raised $29,000 from 10 investors, one of which was the flavored cognac Alizé, which fronted $5,000, according to Binder. The show ended up being a critical success and has since been remounted hundreds of times around the world.
Neil Patrick Harris & Justin Craig in the current Broadway production
Binder credits shows like Spring Awakening and American Idiot for preparing audiences for a rock musical, but he explains that they’d wanted to try for a professional Broadway production for years. They waited until Harris, with whom they had wanted to work for quite some time, was finished with the TV show
Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens on Broadway April 22. Read about Neil Patrick Harris's conversion to the role.