“Drag Race” Alum Mimi Imfurst On Playing Hedwig: It’s Label-Less And Speaks To Young LGBT People

The inevitable has happened and Philadelphia-based Mimi Imfurst (Drag Race Season 3) has been cast as Hedwig, co-directed by Braden Chapman, who happens to be Mimi out of drag. (Chapman also did production design; Josh Hitchens directs.) Said Mimi via a group email, “I am beyond excited to announce that I’ll be playing Hedwig in reTHEATER’s 20th anniversary production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch—performances begin June 1.

“When I was 15, my family disowned me for being gay. I was living on the streets and the only possessions were the clothes on my back, a discman, and the original off-Broadway cast recording of Hedwig. Those songs in many ways kept me going during the most difficult time in my life. Now, 20 years later, it brings me full circle to bring to life this incredible story and live in these songs that once saved me in unimaginable ways.”

The show will play at Philadelphia’s Ruba Club, and marks the 20th anniversary of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s rock musical about a bitter but evolving performer. Having seen Mitchell, Neil Patrick Harris, and Andrew Rannells in the role, I was anxious to more precisely ask Mimi what she’d bring to it, aside from a wig in a box.

Hello, Mimi. You mentioned in your mass email that you had little more than the Hedwig cast album as a homeless teen. What songs spoke to you?

Hedwig is this incredible character who had been through hell and back and still managed to be standing there with resilience—who just wanted to be loved for who she is. I found myself on the streets because of the fact that I was gay and did drag (at the age of 15), I just wanted to be accepted and loved for who I am, so I related so much. The song “Wicked Little Town” really kept me grounded. “If you’ve got no other choice, you know can follow my voice,” Hedwig sings. It became an escape and at the same time reminder to be resilient. I didn’t own much, but what I did have meant everything.”

Have you played a full production of Rocky Horror Show (as Frank ’N’ Furter)? How do these experiences differ or connect?

Yes, I’ve played the Frank-N-Furter in a couple different productions of Rocky Horror. Both shows marry my love of rock, drag, and theater. While they’re very different stories, they’re oddly both about freedom to be who you really are. Frank-N-Furter is much more of a monster than Hedwig—but Hedwig goes to this really dark place. This is the 20 year anniversary of the show, which I’ve done before, so we’re gonna be taking her apart and putting her back together again. This is not going to be the Hedwig you’re used to.
 

What does Hedwig say to young LGBT people?

I think that Hedwig was way ahead of its time, but is extremely contemporary. We live in a divisive time, where labels tear us apart. Hedwig is label-less and I think that really speaks to the young people today. I’m inspired how young people live without the need for labels as barriers between us. I think Hedwig represents that thinking. Ultimately, the show is about stripping off the identities put upon us and the freedom to love yourself enough to just be without the need to define yourself based on an identity or by who does or doesn’t love you. It’s about a journey towards trusting in your soul who you are. I think that speaks to everyone, especially young people.

Could this move to Broadway?

Doubtful! Off-Broadway? That could be really cool. I’d love to see this re-examination of the show be explored on a larger level. Who knows—maybe we’ll tour it. Maybe there’s a producer out there willing to take that adventure with us.

Lacquered fingers crossed. And by the way, Mimi, I’m next.

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Stand Back, Uma Therman

In other unsurprising casting news, Patti LuPone has been cast as a woman who speaks her mind. Broadway diva LuPone has been saying outrageous and honest things that have gotten her headlines, and though I live for this kind of gossip and often desperately try to find it (or make it), it’s a little odd for someone to be throwing fellow women under the bus in the era of #MeToo.

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LuPone made waves when she announced that, onscreen, Madonna is dead behind the eyes. (I agreed, but felt LuPone is motivated; she won a Tony for Evita, whereas Madonna got a Golden Globe for it. Besides, Madonna has been good, here and there, in some films—I swear.) And now, LuPone goes after Uma Thurman. She criticized our film actors’ theatrical attempts by scoffing at The Parisian Woman, the topical Broadway play Uma starred in this year as a scheming socialite. “Holy shit,” remarked LuPone at an event, eloquently referring to Uma’s Broadway debut. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” (She added that she has nothing against Uma, but you should come to the theater to honor the stage and I guess Uma failed to do so. But again, she has nothing against Uma!)

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I actually thought Uma did okay in a not-great play, though she’s had her detractors, some of whom feel she should stay on the screen. But it looks like LuPone has a real problem with women whose looks and glamour and cult of personality have helped them attain movie stardom (in lieu of stage chops, she would no doubt say). But they happen to be talented women, and it would be nice if they all stuck together and…

…aw, fuck it. Keep spewing, Patti. Now that I’m losing the nerve to do so, it’s nice to find someone who isn’t. Just please realize that you are glamorous and full of personality yourself and are free to pursue a movie career on the side.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.

@mikeymusto