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LA Theater Review

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

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John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's rock musical about an "internationally ignored" transgender German rock star slipped into our consciousnesses at the start of the 21st century. Part character study, part rock concert, its focus on the city of Berlin is deliberate, acting as metaphor for Hedwig's ambivalent-schizoid personality. The flamboyant lady rocker, born Hansel Schmidt, has undergone a sex-change operation that was botched, then forms a third-rate rock group. As the concert progresses, Hedwig pours his/her heart out in song and in the spoken passages that connect the show's numbers. Cursed with terrible luck, the angry, frustrated Hedwig suffers a lifelong identity crisis.

Mitchell's libretto rings with bitterness and irony, giving Hedwig loads of double-entendre zingers; David C. Carnevale's staging makes this misfit's tale poignant and strangely moving. Darius Rose nails the title role with a performance that's stellar in every respect. He's just unearthly enough to be plausible, projecting Hedwig's drive and anger as well as the pathos and heartbreak he/she feels. Rose has panache to spare and an aptly androgynous speaking voice he modulates to affect various rhythms, pitches, and accents. The role of Yitzhak, Hedwig's equally androgynous "husband," needs a more imposing performer than Michelle Hernandez to better match Rose's forceful persona, but Hernandez succeeds in showing a demeanor that's stoic despite a barrage of slights and insults from Hedwig. In roles that recall those in The Rocky Horror Show, Rose and Hernandez are solid rock singers. Onstage keyboardist Stephen Hulsey's music direction creates an authentic rock-concert experience, giving Rose and Hernandez rock-solid backing on guitars (Chris Luebeck and Stephen Musselman), bass (Tommy Ring), and drums (Armando Gutierrez).

Crafted by Rose, Joey Baital, Christopher DeGabriele, and Kimberly K. Mitchell, Hedwig's elaborate costume turns Rose into a leggy platinum blonde. Lighting (Joy Bice) and sound approximate any rock concert—that is, heavy doses of volume—though the audio needs better balancing to prevent the cast's vocals from being drowned out by the band.

Presented by Theatre Out at the Empire Theater, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. May 29–June 27. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. (714) 826-8700. www.theatreout.com

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