PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Stephen Trask, On Bringing the Rock 'n' Roll Sound of Hedwig to Broadway

By Carey Purcell
12 Apr 2014

Stephen Trask
Stephen Trask
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Playbill.com chats with composer Stephen Trask about the Broadway debut of the cult rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

*

"It's the greatest thing that's ever happened to my mother," Stephen Trask joked about the Broadway premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the cult musical that made its Off-Broadway bow in 1998.

The story of the "internationally ignored song stylist," whose botched sex-change operation left her with that "angry inch," Hedwig and the Angry Inch first played the Jane Street Theater, starring John Cameron Mitchell and featuring music and lyrics by Trask. It went on to win the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, with both Mitchell and Trask receiving Obie Awards, and Entertainment Weekly naming the cast recording the Soundtrack of the Year. It was adapted into a film in 2001.



With Rolling Stone calling it "the Best Rock Musical Ever" and Time Magazine naming it "the most exciting rock score written for the theatre since, oh, ever," the score of Hedwig, which includes the songs "Wig in a Box" and "The Origin of Love," has garnered many passionate fans. 

Trask, a Grammy Award nominee, has also composed music for numerous movies, including "Lovelace," "American Dreamz," "Camp" and a modern, rock adaptation of "Wuthering Heights." 

Trask chatted with Playbill.com about Hedwig making her Broadway debut, how the show will play in a large Broadway house and the appeal of the show.

Tell me about Hedwig's journey to Broadway.
Stephen Trask: When we were at the Jane Street Theater, we talked very briefly about trying to move to Broadway, but at the time, the material was too out there. No one wanted to hear rock music. We had empty theatres that rejected us. We had to build our own theatre. There was no possible way to bring it to Broadway. And since then, there's a lot of shows that have been influenced by what we did. And, it seems like the country and the culture and the Broadway thing has moved in a direction that's allowed us to do it.

What direction do you think the country has moved in?
ST: I don't think people are freaked out by transgender anymore, or gender issues anymore. I think that everyone who grew up in a pre-rock-and-roll era is pretty much not going out of the house anymore because that was a long time ago. People are willing to actually hear rock music on the stage and still pay the money for the ticket. That's changed. That wasn't the case when we did it before. And, I think that people are interested in seeing something onstage that isn't necessarily just a revival or in the spirit of Oklahoma! They want to see new ideas in the context of a musical. Obviously something's changed because we didn't get this kind of attention the first time around. I don't know exactly what it is, but it's definitely different.

The theatres on Broadway are much bigger than the Jane Street Theater is. How will Hedwig play in a bigger house?
ST: I just want to make sure that we make the space feel small and intimate, not big. I don't want to make it bigger just for the sake of being bigger. That said, when I record and when we did the soundtrack or the cast album, we added extra instruments here and there. There were more vocals than there could be onstage.

As far as changing the sound of the music, mostly it's people I've been playing with, the last seven or so years, who are just among the most talented people I've ever met, and brought them into the show. The only person I met on this is a friend of Justin [Craig], our music director, and he's a guitar star in his own right, who quit his band — a very popular band — to be in this. I'm focusing on getting people, all of whom can sing, all of whom are multi-instrumentalists, and all of whom know how to make four guys sound like seven guys. The music will sound bigger. But I know more as an arranger — when we did the cast album, whatever overdubs we did were just little add-ons when we thought of in the studio, as opposed to now — the way the arrangements have grown, and at least one song is fundamentally changed — is very natural and feels like it makes sense.

Hedwig's songs are so personal and special to so many people. What is it about the show and the music that inspires such passionate fans?
ST: Hedwig is a very unusual person. There's probably one person in real life, a German woman, who was mayor of her town in Germany, who's anything like Hedwig at all. But there really is nobody like Hedwig. And yet, over the course of the evening, the stories that Hedwig tells and the emotions she expresses through the songs, are things that people can really identify with. And so any time that you're brought to a place where you can identify with someone who is so unlike you, it's hard not to then change within yourself.

(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)

View the Entire Photo Gallery
Neil Patrick Harris and Justin Craig
Photo by Joan Marcus