His remarkably blue glittered eyes and magenta pursed lips have been staring from billboards and banners for months now. Taye Diggs took the stage in his dream role as “Hedwig” in the rock musical comeback of 2014 Hedwig and the Angry Inch toward the end of July. The Syracuse University musical theater graduate has said that he jumps at any chance to return to theatre. This time it has been a high-heeled leap of joy for the “The Best Man” star whose last Broadway appearance was in 2003-04 in Wicked.
If the July 22 opening night was any indication, with a thunderous standing ovation by the audience, Hedwig producers have found one of the best performers for the multi-Tony winning show. When it officially opened in April 2014, Neil Patrick Harris had the title role – for which he won a Tony. He was followed by Tony nominee Andrew Rannells, Golden Globe winner Michael C. Hall, John Cameron Mitchell, who is the Hedwig playwright (along with composer & lyricist, Stephen Trask), and Darren Criss (Glee).
Diggs now has become that proverbial first Black person to be such and such. But a first it is.
Via Instagram (@tayediggsinsta), the film and television star – who debuted on Broadway with Carousel (1994-95) and went on to appear in Rent – stated Hedwig is his most challenging role he has played. Challenging because of the high heels, the crotch shorts, the German accent, the rocked out vocals. Maybe. Perhaps, more so, the tinge of hopelessness that speaks to trapped bodies amid intolerance.
Most challenging thing I’ve had to do work-wise. @hedwigonbway A video posted by Taye Diggs (@tayediggsinsta) on
Well, it is a long way from the “ultimate acting challenge” of Diggs’ Julliard graduate character “Sean James” who had to transform into a ghetto lovin’ kidnapping gangsta in the satirical Malibu’s Most Wanted (2003) alongside the Anthony Anderson character “PJ” – straight outta Pasadena Playhouse. Just a moment… I had to do a simultaneous LMAO and SMDH for even mentioning that Jamie Kennedy film right now. But as I think about it, maybe it is appropriate. The film’s tagline was: Ever feel like you didn’t belong? (it was about a privileged White guy who longed to be something he wasn’t – “the biggest rapper that ever was”).
In a time when movements exist for Black lives to matter and LGBTQ rights to improve, it’s not surprising that Diggs would be chosen to portray the genderqueer role and to continue the mission of blurring lines between male and female, straight and gay, Black and White. There is a lot of not belonging nowadays, a lot of searching for right and wrong. Diggs, in an interview with New York Times Magazine, said: “Since I was a kid, I’ve been trying to wean myself off of seeings things as right and wrong and black and white and good and bad.”
When Hedwig opened Off-Broadway in 1998, it served as a statement for freedom and self-acceptance: an East German singer, once known as Hansel, assumes a female persona after a botched sex change operation in order to marry an American man and escape a communist country. After as many as 857 performances plus a 2001 award-winning film adaptation, an anthem persists. Mitchell has explained that Hedwig is meant to be a queer voice as opposed to a transgender voice. “She’s forced into this (sex change) operation… it’s not a choice,” he stated. “Hedwig doesn’t speak for any trans community because she was… mutilated.” He described the character as “more than a woman or a man.” “She’s a gender of one, and that is accidentally so beautiful.”
Diggs as “Hedwig” is no accident, and it definitely is beautiful. A son of artistic parents (his mother an actress and teacher, his father a visual artist), the 44-year-old sex symbol has been preparing for such a role ever since his 1998 film debut How Stella Got Her Groove Back. His Twitter (@tayediggs) bio simply states: “I’m serious chocolate and don’t get it twisted.” Need I say, chocolate is good for you.
Mitchell – who has compared each Hedwig, beginning with Harris, to a comic book superhero (Superman, Black Widow, Iron Man, Professor X and Spiderman) – has yet to don Diggs an alias. Dare I call it… Black Panther. Diggs, who has said his favorite movie is Pretty Woman, will be in high hair and glitter glam through October 11 at Belasco Theatre. Visit hedwigbroadway.com for more information.