“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” co-creator John Cameron Mitchell says he’s pleased that the show about an East German transsexual rock singer has moved from cult hit to Broadway smash. Its change in fortunes reflects a shift in public opinions about issues of gender and sexuality.
Mitchell, an actor, director and writer, received a special Tony Award on Sunday for returning to the role he first played in the show’s 1998 Off Broadway premiere. (Mitchell co-wrote “Hedwig” with songwriter Stephen Trask.)
“Broadway was a little scared [of ‘Hedwig’] at the time…the world has changed, Broadway has changed,” he noted during a question and answer period backstage.
Mitchell was not willing to take credit for helping to shift public opinion about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Nor did he believe that “Hedwig’s” popularity helped pave the way for Caitlyn Jenner’s widely praised transformation.
“It’s exciting to see that’s not really an issue any more,” he said, although he added, “We were always kind of a cult thing. The people who were interested in us weren’t necessarily the people who were afraid of gender issues, sexuality issues or drag.”
One of those people who had to become more comfortable with the idea of “Hedwig,” who in the play survives a botched vaginoplasty, was Mitchell’s own mother. He told the media that her attitude changed when she saw the faces of people who had seen the show and loved it. Their reaction made her realize the subject matter “was not so scary.”
He noted that a role like Hedwig, that was once considered edgy, has now attracted major stars such as Neil Patrick Harris, Taye Diggs and Darren Criss.
“Everybody’s Hedwig now,” said Mitchell.
He urged aspiring actors to learn from his own initial hesitancy to be “out” as a gay man.
“I thought I had to be in the closet to be an actor, but it felt like a lot of work,” said Mitchell. “Protect yourself…do not allow the business or prejudice to stop you having a say in your own life.”
As for “Hedwig’s” future, Mitchell said he hopes to bring the show to London’s West End and would still like to revisit the character in a follow-up production. Just give him time.
“The sequel is still bubbling…but it’s going to be a little while,” he said. “It’s not on the front burner right now.”