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Revisiting Hedwig and the Angry Inch, A Drag Rock Fantasy That Was Ahead of Its Time

“The rock’n’roll drag diva played by John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch was born 31,000 feet in the sky. In 1990, Mitchell was an aspiring playwright and erstwhile actor en route to New York from Los Angeles when he met musician Stephen Trask, the only other person not watching the in-flight movie. The two quickly bonded over their mutual tastes in film and music. It was the start of a lifelong friendship that would lead to this darkly funny rock musical—first an off-Broadway hit, then a cult film and Tony-winning Broadway production—about an “internationally ignored song stylist” with an ax to grind against her superstar ex-boyfriend.

Frustrated by his work as an actor, Mitchell was eager to kick off his playwriting career and found a kindred spirit in Trask. The two built the foundation for Hedwig for over a year, incorporating far-reaching and idiosyncratic inspirations: Plato’s symposiums, Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, and malleable gender performances from the glam-rock era. In the summer of 1994, they started workshopping the show at the downtown NYC gay punk club SqueezeBox!, where Trask led the house band. At the musician’s suggestion, the protagonist shifted to a drag character, a disappointed singer who’s left in the dust.”

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