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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is Event Entertainment
from Balagan at the Moore Theatre

Also see David's review of The Mousetrap


Jerick Hoffer
Thanks in large part to a walloping, perfectly calibrated star turn by Jerick Hoffer in the title role, the new production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is destination theatre, the ideal mating of performer and role. Add to this the fact that Director Ian Bell's production successfully manages to feel exactly like a real rock concert, and any fan (and probably many non-fans) of playwright John Cameron Mitchell and composer/lyricist Stephen Trask's one-of-a-kind Off-Broadway hit and feature film should savor this show. Presented previously at Seattle's Re-Bar nightclub starring Nick Garrison, who gave a likewise sensational performance, perhaps it is my familiarity with the piece now that informed my response this time around, which succeeded in making me embrace both the star and the material.

Set in the '70s at the height of the Glam-rock era, Hedwig's life story is played out as a running monologue punctuated by song. The transsexual diva relates her beginnings as Hansel, an East German girlyboy who falls for U.S. soldier Luther. In order for the two to marry and have Hansel come to the states, he has sex-change surgery, but it is botched, leaving the now-renamed Hedwig with the titular dysfunctional one-inch mound of flesh between her legs, "with a scar running down it like a sideways grimace on an eyeless face." The pair move to Junction City, Kansas, where a year later Hedwig is dumped by Luther who takes up and takes off with another man. That same day, it is announced that the Berlin Wall has fallen and Germany will reunite. Hedwig recovers from the separation by forming a rock band composed of Korean-born Army wives, which she names "The Angry Inch." Hedwig befriends a shy and misunderstood Christian teenager Tommy Speck, with whom she writes some songs. Hedwig gives him the stage name "Tommy Gnosis," but he later leaves her and goes on to become a wildly successful rock star with the songs Hedwig wrote alone and with him. "Internationally ignored" Hedwig and her band The Angry Inch (including Hedwig's much put-upon husband Yitzhak) are forced to support themselves by playing coffee bars and strip mall dives. As Hedwig's show performs in a tiny club, he and we become aware that Tommy Gnosis is performing to sold-out stadium crowds nearby.

Hoffer, quite the hot newcomer after making a splash as Angel in 5th Avenue's Rent and Moritz in Balagan's Spring Awakening last season, injects some welcome humor into Hedwig's stage persona, and a fair share of appropriate ad libs. He has an amazing voice, boundless energy, and gives an emotional tour-de-force in the acting department. A preeminent local professional drag performer (who sings live rather than lip-synching), Hoffer is dream casting in the role of Hedwig, and he is well matched by actress Erin Stewart, who brings strength to the role of Hedwig's spouse Yitzhak, and shows off a pretty wonderful voice as well.Hedwig's band (Musical director David Russell and players Michael Wells, Andy Roth, Chris Pugh, and Michael Owcharuk) is a knock-out, and sound levels between singers and actors are pretty well balanced, a must when so much story is told by the songs.

The Trask score tells the story well and is an accurate representation of Glam-rock stylings, but only the haunting "Wicked Little Town" lingered in my brain afterward. On the technical side, the set by Jennifer Zeyl, costumes by K.D. Schill, lighting by Ahren Buhmann, and projections by Buhmann and Zeyl are ideally executed. And the Moore, where Balagan Theatre and Seattle Theatre Group are co-presenting the show, is a mid-sized house whose state of faded glory suits the material.

But there is nothing faded about the production. It is a glory to behold, and Hoffer's transcendent turn is a guaranteed performance that will be recognized when the season's awards and best of the year lists are doled out.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch performs at the Moore Theatre through January 27th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.balagantheatre.org.


Photo: Christopher Nelson



- David Edward Hughes



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