Opening Nights: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

A drag diva taken on a glam-meets-punk cult figure.

If evangelicals can hate the sin but not the sinner, is it cool to hate the play but love the players? There's a slammin' band of rockers roaring through Balagan's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, led by local drag luminary Jerick Hoffer. His Hedwig comes off as an effortless extension of himself—the glam-meets-punk equivalent of the Slim Shady/Eminem split personalities. Hoffer stomps, romps, and shreds his elastic vocal cords as the role requires, but just as Hedwig herself is missing something essential at her core, so is this glimpse into transgenderism. There's no one with whom to empathize.

Unlike the musical it most closely resembles, The Rocky Horror Show, Hedwig is neither funny nor whimsical. But because it's outrageous and in-your-face, it's become a cult phenomenon since John Cameron Mitchell originated the 1998 show.

Hedwig's tale of woe is also the source of her liberation, literally and figuratively, from the yoke of masculinity and her roots in East Germany. After agreeing to part with his genitalia (in an operation that left him/her with that "angry inch"), Hansel becomes Hedwig and moves to the states, where she is soon jettisoned by the American G.I. who talked her into the whole misbegotten affair. In her despair, Hedwig falls in with a pimply kid (future rock star Tommy Gnosis, heard only in sound clips), and with him creates songs that launch his superstardom. Gnosis dumps Hedwig, leaving her to play in seafood restaurants.

Hedwig is backed by a ferocious live band (the encore included celebratory covers by Bowie and The Sweet). But, outside of Erin Stewart's star turn as Hedwig's singing parter, Eastern-bloc Axl Rose look-alike Yitzhak, there are no other characters of substance. And as it becomes clear that Yitzhak is Hedwig's current husband and onstage doormat, it's obvious that Hedwig regards herself as the only marquee name in her universe.

This Hedwig is a blast-furnace punk-rock extravaganza with all the technical elements stitched together to rough-hewn perfection by music supervisor David Russell and director Ian Bell. Go expecting searing performances from the unforgettable Hoffer and crew, and you'll leave elated. Go hoping for anything else, and you'll be checking your watch.

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