“Hedwig,” From SqueezeBox! to Broadway: How Far the Culture Has Traveled

“Hedwig” (the film): Katie Roumel, producer; John Cameron Mitchell, director, writer and actor; Christine Vachon, producer; and Stephen Trask, writer and composer

John Cameron Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” started life in a drag club, as a 30-minute version of what would become the famous musical, a tryout about as far off-Broadway as it gets.  It was 1994 and Mitchell had been discussing his ideas for a show with his friend and soon-to-be collaborator, Stephen Trask, composer and musician, whose gigs included leading the house band at SqueezeBox! and who arranged for Mitchell to first incarnate Hedwig, the “internationally ignored songstress,” on the club’s stage.

In 1998 the show opened at The Jane Street Theatre, a strange place on the West Side Highway in the meatpacking district when the area was known for hanging carcasses, hookers and transsexuals, rather than today’s high-end boutiques, restaurants and the Standard Hotel.  “Hedwig” rapidly found its adoring audience.  And the film followed in 2001, with Mitchell directing and reprising his role as the East German transsexual girl rocker, betrayed by Tommy Gnossis, the boyfriend who stole her songs.

Twenty years after SqueezeBox!, Mitchell and Trask’s show is on Broadway, Hedwig incarnated by Neil Patrick Harris (who won the 2014 Tony for Best Actor in a Musical), bringing its ideas about love, gender identity, types of performance and rock and roll to a big, world audience, which seems as ready as not.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will screen on Monday, July 7th, 8:00 pm, part of  Queer/Art/Film’s “Summer of Drag” series at the IFC Center.  The film was chosen by guest presenters, the queens of Brooklyn’s Bushwig festival, including founders Simon Leahy and Matty Beats.  The screening will be followed by a Q&A and an after-party at Julius, New York’s oldest gay bar.

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