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Theater Review:

"HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH" at The Broadway Theatre


John Cameron Mitchell may have written a glam-rock show in the style of The New York Dolls or David Bowie’s "Ziggy Stardust," but "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" -- a groundbreaking rock musical now in an open run at the newly renovated Broadway Theatre – sports a decidedly dressed-down theme. Inspired by Plato’s "Symposium," this alternative performance odyssey aims to unite the male and female qualities that exist within us all.

It’s also a uniquely theatrical piece, which uses a rock concert as its aggressive forum for gender exploration. Mitchell, who starred in the original production, teamed up with versatile and accomplished composer-lyricist Stephen Trask to craft a mythic musical that speaks to the post-sexual sentiment of our times – and includes some of the most provocative and poignant tunes written for the stage.

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" opened off-Broadway in 1998 and has toured the country. Mitchell’s film version, produced by New Line Cinema, is scheduled to open in July. So interest in the titular East German rock star, who proclaims "I’m the new Berlin Wall – try and tear me down!," is bound to intensify.

Hedwig (formerly Hansel) undergoes a sex-change operation to marry the U.S. serviceman who promises his bride a life of freedom and prosperity in America. The botched procedure leaves Hedwig with a one-inch mound of dangling flesh. But even though she marries her man in uniform, she ends up a faded fraulein watching the collapse of the Berlin Wall on bootlegged cable in a Texas trailer park.

The egocentric pop star, who sports gargantuan Farrah Fawcett hair, embarks on a journey to reclaim her love for rock ‘n’ roll icon Tommy Gnosis (who just might be hiding beneath her own wigs and Spandex). The final scene successfully reaffirms Hedwig as a modern-day, "Orlando"-esque oracle who bounds across a wide expanse of gender identity.

In the Chicago production – directed by Joseph Witt in the gothic-tinged confines of the Broadway Theatre – Nick Garrison tackles the demanding, schizophrenic role of Hedwig. His portrayal is genuine, pained and brutal. And despite some pacing problems on opening night, Garrison captured Hedwig’s torments and triumphs. He is stingingly paired with powerhouse vocalist Katrina Lenk as Hedwig’s embittered Eastern European "husband"-backup singer Yitzak. Joe Pecorino leads the heavy-hitting androgynous rebel-band.

The rock musical also can’t be pigeonholed as a drag show or as a parody of glam rock. It comments on a vast range of world issues – from mass consumerism to fallout from the collapse of communism and the ongoing ill treatment of societal "misfits."

Some of the show’s most pertinent and poetic songs include the opening "Tear Me Down"; "The Origin of Love" (which beautifully relates a myth about Zeus dividing the sexes and humans constantly seeking out their other halves); the charged "Wig in a Box"; and the stirring final anthem, "Midnight Radio."

As Hedwig scatters her chromosomes among the crowd, this bold Every Being erases the strictures of gender. •

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is in an open run at The Broadway Theatre, 3175 N. Broadway. Tickets: $35, with a special $19.99 price for Fridays at 11 p.m. Call 773-388-3818.

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