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What is Taye Diggs Doing Performing in Drag on Broadway?

Sebastian Mader

For some, the ubiquitous image of a Hollywood heartthrob dressed in what appears to be drag can make one stop in their tracks.

Super-sized billboards of the chiseled face of Taye Diggs, made up in glittery cosmetics, are plastered all over Times Square. Commercials featuring the dolled up and flamboyant actor have aired during some of your favorite television shows. And if that’s not enough, actual photos of him in full regalia -- replete with freakish bouffant blond wig and an acid-washed, bedazzled, denim mini-skirt can be readily found online.

And then it sets in; this is really happening and there is no escaping it.

Sebastian Mader

Taye Diggs is back on Broadway and starring in the title role of the gender bending musical ‘Hedwig And The Angry Inch’ through September 13.

Yes, that Taye Diggs, the one who made black cougars swoon as Angela Bassett’s love interest in ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’ way back in 1998.

The same Taye Diggs that appeals to that eternally loyal Essence magazine-buying crowd thanks to a string of starring roles in hit urban rom-coms like ‘The Best Man,’ ‘Brown Sugar’ and the coming of age flick ‘The Wood.’

Seeing him in full drag, as Hewdig Schmidt—the brassy, self-made German glam rock goddess who endured a botched sex change operation while scheming to flee depressive East Berlin in the 1970s—is quite a departure from the work he’s been known for.

And that’s just the reason he took on the meaty role.

“Well, for me, personally I’m used to doing things in a kind of regimented way,” Diggs, 44, told NBCBLK. “I don’t like surprises. I had kind of very limited views on acting and I liked playing it safe, I didn’t like being uncomfortable. So this role challenged basically who I was as a person and my perspective on life and I could tell that this was something—like a gift that was given to me.”

"I didn’t like being uncomfortable. So this role challenged basically who I was as a person and my perspective on life and I could tell that this was something—like a gift that was given to me.”

“I knew it was something I had to do first and foremost,” he continued. “And I thought the fact that I would be the first black Hedwig, that was just the whip cream on top.”

Fellow television actors with musical theater chops such as Michael C. Hall (‘Dexter’), Darren Criss (‘Glee’), Andrew Rannells (‘Girls’) and Neil Patrick Harris (who won a Tony Award) previously took on the physically challenging role in the Broadway production which was scheduled for a 16-week run in the spring of 2014.

Hedwig & the Angry Inch
Pictured: Tim Mislock on guitar, Taye Diggs as Hedwin, Rebecca Naomi Jones as Yitzhak, and Justin Craig on guitar.

Hedwig’s creator John Cameron Mitchell originated the raunchy role Off-Broadway, gaining a cult following during the late 90s. National and international stagings followed before and after the award winning movie adaptation surfaced in 2001.

Accepting the offer for the role was “instantaneous” for Diggs, who revealed that he was “petrified” with the notion at first. “But then I cut that feeling off quickly and said yes so that I wouldn’t say no,” he shared.

"I didn’t like being uncomfortable. So this role challenged basically who I was as a person and my perspective on life and I could tell that this was something—like a gift that was given to me.”

“And then my agent said, ‘Oh, yeah, call me at the end of the day’ and I said ‘I’m telling you now that it’s yes, tell all of our people it’s yes. I don’t want to give myself time to change my mind. This is something that I had do and it’s perfect timing. So yes, yes!' and then I hung up. And then I immediately bought the script and tried to start memorizing the music and the dialogue.”

The Newark born, Rochester bred thespian, who previously appeared in Broadway productions of ‘Rent’ and ‘Chicago,’ didn’t have any trepidation about the stigma that can come when a straight actor performs in drag. And the fact that he’s African American, it could be intensified.

But he’s not fazed by any of it.

Hedwig & the Angry Inch
Taye Diggs as Hedwig.

“I am on a different plane and in a different dimension,” Diggs commented about stigma specifically rooted in bigotry. “I can’t be livid by all of that bullsh-t. This is bigger than all of that. That’s one thing about getting older—I can easily shift through sh-t that I need to pay attention to and sh-t that is just useless, and don’t even bat an eye at stuff like that.”

But he was quick to point out how vital the story can be for black people.

Citing the importance of ‘Hedwig’ for all people, Diggs, who also currently stars in the TNT detective series ‘Murder in The First,’ said “anything that is not the norm I think is important for African Americans especially within the race because we’re still at a point where there’s so much more for us to learn about ourselves and about each other, and the more we see black faces playing characters that we otherwise would assume that black faces can’t play it’s all the better. Because at the end of the day and as corny as it sounds it’s about breaking down walls and making limits disappear and guidelines and all of those things.”

“With that, we know we can do, at the end of the day, whatever we want.”