PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Lena Hall, Getting Ready to Rock in Hedwig and the Angry Inch

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29 Mar 2014

Lena Hall
Lena Hall

Lena Hall, co-starring with Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, chats with Playbill.com about taking on the role of Yitzhak in Hedwig's Broadway premiere.

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Lena Hall has come full circle.

The actress, singer and Hedwig fan first saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Jane Street Theater and promptly bought the cast recording, which she listened to nonstop. A self-proclaimed "Hed-head," Hall loved the show passionately, and when she heard it was coming to Broadway, with Neil Patrick Harris starring in the title role, she was ready to do whatever it took to join the cast.

To audition for the role of Yitzhak, a devoted fan of Rent who is presented as a butch male in Hedwig's band, Hall wrote a backstory monologue for the character and created a video she filmed in character for a fake Kickstarter campaign to bring Rent back to Broadway.



Hall, whose stage credits include Cats, Tarzan, Dracula, 42nd Street and The Toxic Avenger, was most recently seen on Broadway as the stylish Nicola in Kinky Boots. In the Broadway premiere of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's musical, she trades in her cocktail dresses and high heels for the slightly less feminine attire of Yitzhak.

Hall, who performs with her band The Deafening when she's not onstage, chatted with Playbill.com about utilizing video in her audition, the timelessness of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the relationship between Hedwig and Yitzhak.

It sounds like you really wanted this part! What is your history with Hedwig?
Lena Hall: I've known about the show for a very long time. I saw the original production at the Jane Street Theater – not with John Cameron Mitchell [who originated the part]. I saw Kevin Cahoon. The show was amazing. My sister and I saw it, and it was one of those experiences where you leave and you're like, [sobbing] "I love this so much! It was so good!"

It was a great emotional release to watch that show. I bought the soundtrack. The soundtrack was a part of my life — a lot. I just listened to it, listened to it, lose it, buy it, listen to it, lose it, buy it, listen to it. So when I heard it was coming to Broadway I was like, "I really want to go and audition for this part." I knew the show well, and I knew the vibe of the show and how they would want to work. In my head, I was like, "I'm going to go bold, or I'm not going to get it. I'm going to go for it. I want to surprise them ten times in my audition and really make it hard for them to say no to me," because I wanted it so bad.

I wrote a monologue, and I actually filmed a Kickstarter campaign for the character. When it came to writing it and putting it all together, it came together really fast and organically. It was really easy. I kind of infused my own thing into it, and they really loved it. And here I am. I got the show!

Lena Hall and Neil Patrick Harris
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

What is it about this role that you wanted so badly?
LH: Yitzhak is a lost man. So while he's very confident on the outside and maybe kind of alluring, there's a lot of pain and a lot of repression. And he's really not allowed to break out of that and be who he knows he wants to be and make that change. So, to me, to play that — it's fun, it's rich, and also to play a man, it's rich. There's a lot of work. There's a lot to do.

I wanted it to be a big difference to what I played in Kinky Boots to what I'm going to play in this. It's a huge opposition. In Kinky Boots I [played] a girly girl who knows what she wants, who knows where she's going, and she's going to get it, any how, any way, no matter who she has to leave in her dust. And then this character is just trying to survive the daily world in his skin.

Tell me about your character. Who is Yitzhak? 
LH: Yitzhak is married to Hedwig. I am her husband. I am not a woman in drag. I am actually a man. Hopefully I'll be able to play that well. It's a slightly abusive relationship. But I absolutely love Hedwig. He's my spirit animal.

How has it been, working with Neil?
LH: It's great. So stocked, so excited. He's great to work with. He's really open to other ideas and so playful. It puts me at ease. I was seriously nervous coming into this — "Oh my God, Michael Mayer. Oh my God, Neil Patrick Harris. Oh my God, Steven Trask. Oh my God, John Cameron Mitchell." I was kind of running around and feeling crazy about it because I was nervous, but just the first day of rehearsal was like, "Hello. I love you. And now we start."

Hedwig is making its Broadway debut after playing Off-Broadway in the '90s. How do you think the musical speaks to present-day audiences?
LH: I think it's a timeless piece. There's a lot of specific dates in the show, but it doesn't matter. It's about being able to release your past and being able to release those around you who you may be controlling or keeping in because you're unhappy with something about yourself. And the music, too — it really hits a chord deep down inside. It's just so good. And the visceral reaction you get from just listening to the music — it works so perfectly with what the storyline is and what your emotional response should be. It just heightens everything.

No wonder it has such a big cult following. I'm a Hed-head. I get people Tweeting me and Facebooking me from all over the world, like, "I can't wait to see you in the show. I already booked my ticket for New York! I'm from Singapore!"

I'm a Hed-head as Hed-head I can be. I've never been a crazy fan of anything, ever. I've always been like, "I really like that. But I really like that, too." But I've bought this soundtrack so many times. You can't even deny. When I listened to it after I got the job, I jumped around my apartment, "Yes these songs are so good!" It was just amazing.