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Chatting with a Grammy-Nominated Composer

Stephen Trask on his success on Broadway and why he’s not buying a tux

When Hedwig and the Angry Inch first opened Off-Broadway in 1998, the musical about a gender-bending East German rocker won a legion of fans and a fair share of awards. Now that the show is in the middle of a fantastically successful Broadway revival—Neil Patrick Harris opened as the titular character and a new actor has come on board every few months—it’s reaching an entirely new audience and winning even bigger awards.

Indeed, Hedwig took home three Tony Awards in 2014, and now the show’s composer, Stephen Trask, is nominated for a Grammy. Here, he discusses 17 years of Hedwig and where he’ll keep his statue if he wins. 

You’re nominated for a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. Were you surprised to be nominated?

I was neither surprised nor expecting it. I didn’t think it was a lock either. It’s somewhere in the middle. On the other hand, we did win a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and a lot of people doing the nominating are the same people that would have been voting for that. So it makes me think that it’s kind of for the same folks. I don’t know who they are! It’s so mysterious.

Well, you’ve certainly put in the work. You’ve had three different actors playing your lead since the show opened. That must be a lot of work for you.

It’s really hard to find the right person—they’re in and out. I’m here during the day today before John [Cameron Mitchell’s] first night and I’ll be at his next two shows, and then we’ll start rehearsing the next guy in two weeks.

Do you have a dream guy? 

Neil Patrick Harris was my dream guy, and Michael C. Hall. I would love Justin Timberlake. He’s funny and he’s a good actor, he can sing and he could dance. He would sell a lot of ticket; he would look good. That’s someone that you want to work with. 

Someone said to me they thought Pink would be a great Hedwig. I thought it was a good idea.

People actually say that all the time. She was probably the most rumored person to replace Neil Patrick Harris. It’s Pink constantly, all the time Pink. I don’t see it.

The album you’re nominated for wasn’t done in the traditional way.

You mean that it was self-funded? Yeah. There hadn’t initially been a plan to do an album, I had put it in our producers’ heads that we may as well self-fund it because then we could sell it. It’s going to sell the amount that it sells, people don’t give big advances anymore.

We recorded it and produced it mostly at a studio in Brooklyn. One of our producers slept on the couch there for a few nights, it’s the way indie rock records are made. I just hated the idea of a record company coming in and not giving us the advance. I’m much more interested in the indie way in which you do it yourself, and you call the shots and you own the thing. 

Then you got the best of both worlds when Atlantic came and picked it up for distribution, right?

Yeah, though somebody over at Atlantic recently said, ‘So, Stephen’s not involved in the Broadway production, is he?’ I don’t really know how much they pay attention. 

Well, you have done a number of productions of this show.

The original and this. And we were in Los Angeles and Boston, and I did some advisory stuff on a failed production in London.

When you guys first started, did you think that this would be something that resonated with people in 2015? 

It almost feels like the time period between Off Broadway and now has been erased, as if there’s no passage of time in terms of the material. The material feels very fresh, it doesn’t feel like an old thing. The arrangement of the songs was updated for Broadway, but not in such a drastic way that they lost their personality. They’re still true to themselves; the music still sounds pretty fresh—not pretty old. Maybe that’s because I’m old.

If you take home a Grammy where is it going to live? 

In my backpack, I’m going to take it wherever I go. Wouldn’t that be awful? I have an apartment in Brooklyn right now, so I’ll stick it next to my Tony. 

And have you picked up a tux for the big night or are you going with something more Hedwig-y? 

I’m trying to see if I can get away with wearing my same tux one more time. I bought a tux for opening night and then I wore it to the Tonys. I’ve done it with a black shirt, I’ve done it with a white shirt, and it’s not like I’m going to wear a blue shirt. I don’t know what to do! Should I get a blue ruffled shirt?

The producers won’t spring for a new suit for you? 

Sadly, no. Maybe. They won’t even pay for the car service and the hotel.

Remember that when you win and they change all the posters.

I remember it all the time.