Stage & Dance

Bass player becomes one more Lexington link to 'Hedwig' on Broadway

Matt Duncan will be in the onstage band when Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens on Broadway.
Matt Duncan will be in the onstage band when Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens on Broadway.

Matt Duncan has been one of the highest-profile musicians in Lexington for the past few years, bringing his twist on retro soul to stages and recordings, and receiving national attention. But this year finds Duncan putting his Kentucky career on hold to go be part of the most Lexington-linked show on Broadway in recent memory: Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

After a farewell show at Al's Bar in December, Duncan moved to New York to begin preparations to play bass in the onstage band in the upcoming production, opening this spring.

With Broadway's favorite TV star, Neil Patrick Harris, in the title role, it is one of the most anticipated shows this year. And with a team that includes Lexingtonians Stephen Trask, one of the original developers of the show, as composer and lyricist, and Justin Craig as music director, it has as much Kentucky flavor as a bottle of bourbon.

"I've known Stephen Trask for about 10 years," Duncan says. "I met him when I was in Parlor Boys and did some studio work for him. I played bass several times.

"So when they were getting ready for the show and asked who should play bass, apparently Stephen mentioned me."

Hedwig is about a glam rock band led by a transgender East German singer. The story by writer John Cameron Mitchell was based on some of his experiences as an Army brat and his memories of his German baby sitter, who also worked as a prostitute.

The show itself is set up much like a concert, with Hedwig telling the story of befriending a teenage boy named Tommy, with whom she writes songs and who goes on to be a hugely successful rock star. As the show takes place, the band is following Tommy around on tour, and Hedwig is desperate to reunite with him.

Mitchell and Trask developed the show in the 1990s with the onstage band playing a lot of outside gigs together. Duncan says that appears to be the plan for the Broadway ensemble.

"We're supposed to be becoming a band, as opposed to hired guns," Duncan says.

Hedwig had a very successful off-Broadway run during the late 1990s, winning Obie and Outer Critics Circle awards for best off-Broadway musical. A 2001 film adaptation starred Mitchell as Hedwig and Trask as guitarist, pianist and vocalist Skszp. But this production will be its Broadway debut.

Guiding the proceedings will be Michael Mayer, the Tony Award-winning director of another hit rock musical, Spring Awakening.

Speaking by phone in mid-January, Duncan still was getting his bearings in New York.

With things going swimmingly in Lexington — his latest recording, Soft Times, was a hit and landed on a lot of best-of lists in and out of the area — this wasn't exactly a great time for Duncan to make a big move, but it was a great opportunity.

"I contemplated it, but not much," Duncan says. "There were lots of adjustments, lots of things hastily wrapped up, or not."

He expects the next few months to be focused on the show, which is scheduled to begin previews March 29 and open April 22 at the Belasco Theatre. After the show opens, he expects to have some free time to return to working on his own music. Hedwig is booked for a five-month run, though it could be extended.

As he spoke, Duncan had yet to meet Harris, who is in the midst of wrapping up his nine-year stint on the hit the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. (In a seeming coincidence, HIMYM co-star Josh Radnor tweeted Duncan's The Keys as his song of the day last fall.)

Duncan says he's looking forward to meeting the headliner but is most happy to be working with fellow Lexingtonians such as Craig, who is just coming off a gig playing guitar in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

"He is irritatingly talented," Duncan says. "I am so thrilled for him that he has this opportunity."

Duncan isn't doing too shabby himself.