Having achieved widespread popularity on RuPaul’s Drag Race as his larger-than-life alter-ego Mimi Imfurst, Braden Chapman is a critically-acclaimed actor, singer, director, writer, and producer of both the stage and screen. Along with his memorable appearances in drag on TV’s Nurse Jackie, Celebrity Apprentice, Blue Bloods, and What Would You Do?, he was crowned Miss’d America 2017, and later that year became the first American Drag Queen to perform in Cuba since the embargo. His theater credits include the award-winning Divine/Intervention (FringeNYC 2015, Award for Overall Excellence of a Play), which he conceived and directed, and reTHEATER’s 2018 Barrymore Award-nominated production of the gender-bending rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, in which he starred and blew away audiences with his powerhouse vocals and empathetic portrayal.
Fans in New York will have the opportunity to see Chapman and his team on February 15, for a one-night-only full-stage performance of their blockbuster hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. I had the opportunity to talk to Braden during rehearsal week, to get his perspectives on the show and on his famous drag persona.
When did you first see or hear about Hedwig and what was your immediate reaction?
Braden: The first time I had heard about Hedwig was when the original Off-Broadway cast performed “The Origin of Love” on The Rosie O’Donnell Show twenty years ago in 1999. I was immediately mesmerized, as it combined my three biggest passions – drag, rock and roll, and theater. It was a collision of the perfect ingredients. I was hooked and it has remained my favorite show since then. Hedwig was the reason I started to do drag.
When and why did you decide to create your own production of the show?
I’ve starred as Hedwig in six different productions of the show over the last seventeen years. Every single production is radically different, and Hedwig herself is different each time. Sometimes she’s more edgy, others more damaged, but she is always full of heart. This production celebrates the show’s 20th anniversary, so it is stripped down, and speaks the rawness and love of the show.
Which song and/or line from Hedwig holds the most personal meaning for you?
In “Wicked Little Town” Hedwig sings “And if you’ve got no other choice, you know you can follow my voice, through the dark turns and noise of this wicked little town.” When I was sixteen my family kicked me out of the house for being gay and the only thing I had in my possession was the original Off-Broadway cast recording. Living on the streets, the show – that song – saved me in many ways. I love the stillness of the song, in the chaos of the electric rock score around it.
You’re bringing your award-nominated cast, musicians, and team from reTHEATRE’S 2018 Philadelphia production to New York. What do they bring to the show?
First off, Stephanie C. Kernisan is one of the best Yitzhaks I’ve ever seen, let alone worked with. She brings a force that is equal to Hedwig’s and can stand toe-to-toe with her. It’s amazing to work with her. On top of that, the band is absolutely killer. Under the direction of Bobby Goodrich, we’ve reworked a couple things, making the score ring through the rafters. The Beechman better be ready to rock!
What do you hope the public takes away from Hedwig?
This show is all about love. It is about shedding the identities you play because of the circumstances of your journey, and loving the person who you truly are under it all. It’s a Valentine’s Day present for your soul. I have the highest respect for John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s masterpiece and I hope the audience can feel that love as well.
How have you enjoyed your experience with RuPaul’s Drag Race? Has it been helpful in giving you the exposure you need to do your own work?
The best thing about Drag Race is that it elevates whatever you’re doing. I’ve had so many – too many – amazing opportunities, including traveling around the world. Now, I am able to focus on the thing I love most, which is theater.
What do you love most about Mimi Imfurst?
Mimi is completely insane. She is a blessing and a curse. People think Braden is the same as the character of Mimi, when we couldn’t be further apart. I do love that she allows me to have crazy adventures, but Braden is actually a much quieter artist under it all.
What’s your first creative memory, or your earliest realization that performing might be in your future?
I honestly do not remember. I’ve been acting in shows since I was five. I thought I was just going to be an actor, until Hedwig found me.
What’s been the most rewarding experience in your career to this point?
Stephen Trask generously allowed me to do my own recording of Hedwig’s score. Shameless plug – you can catch it on iTunes, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (20th Anniversary Recording). Being able to bring voice to a show that saved me 20 years ago was a dream come true.
Where can audiences look forward to seeing you next?
Dale Smith (my collaborator on Divine/Intervention) and I are debuting a new play, under the direction of Aaron Bogad (who directed me in American Idiot last year), set backstage during a beloved Broadway musical. I’m also going to be in Serenbe Playhouse’s production of Hair this summer, which I’m very excited about.
Thanks, Braden, for giving our readers a preview and some personal insights into your sensational production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and what it means to you. I loved it in Philadelphia, and can’t wait to see it again in New York!
Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays on Friday, February 15, 2019, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, downstairs in the West Bank Café – 407 West 42nd Street, NYC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.