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rocking Hedwig has heart Playing a sexually ambiguous rocker named Hedwig, Victoria's Griffin Leonard Lea made a Sunset Boulevard style entrance Thursday night cool pandora charms at the Metro Studio. Lea, wearing a gravity defying blond wig, slipped in through an exit door, stage left, then descended a flight of stairs. With regal aplomb, the actor singer opened up his character's spectacular cape in the manner of a metamorphosing butterfly that is, if a butterflies are capable of drag queen attitude. In case anyone still doubted who was in charge, Lea ended his gambit with a two fisted middle finger salute. A daunting figure in six inch high white platform boots and matching fishnets, his aim was to dominate the theatre absolutely. In this he succeeded and managed to keep it up for the duration of the show. Atomic Vaudeville has opened an entertaining and appropriately hard rocking version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the 1998 musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Constructed around the conceit that we're attending a concert, the audience gets the autobiographical tale of Hedwig, a German singer whose anger and sardonic wit stem from a botched sex change operation. We learn she underwent the procedure to please an American soldier the pair married and relocated from Germany to the United States. The "angry inch" is both the name of Hedwig's band and a concise description of what remains of her ruined genitalia. We absorb Hedwig's story in bits and pieces. Her former boyfriend, Tommy Gnosis, has become a big rock star (occasionally a door is opened and we hear Tommy's screaming fans at a concert he's giving nearby). Hedwig is aggrieved because (1) she wrote all Tommy's best songs, and (2) he not only dumped her but fails to give Hedwig any credit for his success. Meanwhile, one of her band members is a Jewish pandora charm offers drag queen called Yitzhak (powerfully sung by Jana Morrison) who happens to be her current husband. Hedwig treats Yitzhak with disdain, mostly because she's jealous of his singing abilities. The role of Hedwig is huge she delivers 98 per cent of the dialogue; she sings most of the songs. She's a character of brobdingnagian proportions. Any performer brave enough to tackle the role must be able to generate Hedwig's rock hero charisma, big enough to fill a stadium even pandora pendants if she's playing a dingy little dive. Lea knows this and possesses the talent to make it happen. He conveys Hedwig's anguish, her bitterness, her twisted intelligence. And he convincingly lobs such drag queen witticism as: "When it comes to huge openings a lot of people think of me." The audience is made aware of Hedwig's cruelty; at the same time, Lea finds the character's tenderness and vulnerability, which is essential to making the show work. He and the rest of the cast are deftly directed by Britt Small, who shows a firm understanding of what this musical is about. In particular, she has encouraged an authentic rock 'n' aesthetic from a superbly tight band consisting of drummer Andrew Taylor, bassist Michael Huerta, guitarist Blair Hansen and keyboardist/guitarist Charles Appleton. The songs influenced by the likes of Iggy Pop and David Bowie are tuneful, clever and dispatched with high decibel enthusiasm (the faint of heart are advised to wear earplugs). A sample lyric from the hard rocking opening number, Tear Me Down, gives a flavour of the show: "I rose from off of the doctor's slab/Like Lazarus from the pit/Now everyone wants to take a stab/And decorate me/With blood, graffiti and spit." Jimbo Insell's costumes for Hedwig are outrageous fun. So are Bradley Taylor's wigs, which include a towering Tina Turner monstrosity cheap real pandora bracelets and a Cruella de Vil beehive. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is built on a series of seeming dichotomies. There's Hedwig's gender fluidity, her cruel/kind persona, her East/West background, her combination of vulgarity and educated intelligence (her song The Origin of Love is based on a tale from Plato's Symposium).
Ultimately this musical embraces a glam rock philosophy in which society's so called misfits and cast offs can feel not only included but celebrated. This is a good thing as relevant today as 20 years ago. And, beneath all the bitchy bon mots and cymbal crashes, it gives Hedwig and the Angry Inch genuine heart and humanity.
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