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Transformative theater

Insurgo’s Hedwig proves musicals really can sing

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch, at Insurgo Theater Movement, through May 29
Jacob Coakley

There are musicals that, in aiming to be successful, try to be as bland and universal as possible. And then there's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which relates the story of a transgender/drag-queen East Berlin army-wife divorcee, and how she was used and abused by a goth-rocker who stole all her songs to achieve super-stardom.

It's centered around Aristophanes' view of love as related in Plato's Symposium, and is told through a series of punk/glam-rock songs and monologues as though it were a lounge act. Mind- (and gender-) bendingly specific, the show became a big, fat cult hit, and for very good reason. In addition to having one of the most rocking scores in musical theater (it makes RENT sound like Annie) it also has one of the raunchiest, funniest scripts — a story about true love and self-identity that cuts to the core of anyone who's ever felt incomplete or been wounded in love.

It's also a show that demands a lot. A musical-theater actor cannot lightly step into the role. To successfully portray Hedwig, you have to be aggressive. And charming. And funny. And heartbroken. You have to know how to rock out with your one-inch cock out, while wearing women's lingerie, giant heels and a truly fabulous blonde wig, feathered so far out as to almost take flight. And you've got to have a voice as big as the wig.

The Details

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Four stars
Through May 29, 10:30 p.m., $15-$20.
Insurgo Theater Movement, 900 E. Karen Ave., 771-7331, insurgotheater.org.

In all of these, Cory Benway succeeds as Hedwig. From his first entrance — wrapped in an American flag/cape — to his final breakdown, Benway flirts, rocks and drags the audience along with him. Under the musical direction of William Waldrop, the band is similarly tight, growling out the rock and playing the anthems with flare. Director David Tapper displays a light touch on the staging (the spray-paint rock club set by Steve Paladie and John Beane perfectly captures the show's energy), guiding the audience's focus to some of the deeper relationship currents.

And while there are some moments where the gears grind a bit, the emotional journey of the characters shines through. The beauty of a live production of this musical is the illumination each production's choices adds to the story, clarifying and sharpening it. Hedwig is a complete show, in that it demands a lot from every aspect of its performance: the acting, the singing, the band's playing. When it works, as it does here — superbly — the result can be transformative.

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