Backstage West
November 4, 1999

Reviewed by Scott Proudfit

Hedwig has come home. The rock 'n' roll drag cabaret that has taken Gotham by storm howled into the City of Angels on All Hallows Eve, and the diva, in all her rage and ridiculousness, seemed right where she should be-straight out of the alleys of Hollywood Boulevard, cleaned up and slapped onto the big stage. Hedwig is the embodiment of the down-and-dirty glamour of the L.A. streets. After all, has there ever been a more "Wicked Little Town," as the song says, than our fair city?

Her back-room roots are showing, of course, and those familiar with the drag cabaret tradition on Manhattan's Lower East Side might not find this show as revolutionary as others. Moreover, those expecting the birth of the first true rock musical may find the patter too long between the noise. Then again, those who want just rock should go to a concert-this is the theatre.

But enough about what Hedwig isn't. What it is is one of the most exciting and funny shows to come along in years-and, more importantly, it's proof positive that Michael Cerveris is a musical theatre national treasure.

For those of you who've been living in a cave for the past year, Hedwig revolves around an East German transsexual who traded his genitalia for release from behind the Iron Curtain. Things didn't go quite as planned, unfortunately. The G.I. who insisted on the cut left Hedwig in a trailer outside of Phoenix soon after making the trip back to the States, and his young bride was left with a little mound of flesh where his most prized possession used to hang-an angry inch, so to speak.

Between wailing garage band-type numbers, we piece together this bizarre story from the lips of the hilarious Cerveris as the damaged diva. The bewigged performer proves a master of timing and in-the-moment improv as the embittered blonde with a tale to tell. He also shows off his skill at mimicry, morphing from one character to another while relaying the story, transforming voice and body in the blink of an eye.

We knew Cerveris could rock from his days as Tommy, but he also pulls off the gear switch from ironic humor to cathartic explosion in the final two numbers, when he literally strips down to the the bone. The power of the "Exquisite Corpse" number is earned; it's stark and honest, and it's worth the price of admission.

Writer and original Hedwig John Cameron Mitchell has delightfully adapted the text for Tinseltown, where a character riding the hype of a scandal-Hedwig was caught in a limo servicing one-time lover and current rock star Tommy Gnosis-somehow seems more believable. Stephen Trask's music and lyrics run the gamut in tone from grunge to country ballad and in theme from Plato's Symposium to German politics. Trask also appears onstage as keyboard/guitar/vocalist for the Angry Inch (also the name of Hedwig's band), and proves an adept performer with a great feathery Goth voice.

The rest of the band, all in character and all game for the wild proceedings, include Theodore Liscinski III on bass, Paul Livingston on drums, and Sid Sosa on guitar. The one actual woman onstage, the talented Miriam Shor, plays a convincing man, Yitzak, Hedwig's current beau and roadie and a former drag singer himself.

Director Peter Askin and his designers have effectively transformed the Fonda into a slightly downscale rock-concert venue. Moreover, Askin's pacing keeps the show fast and funny, while never missing an opportunity for a gag.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is essentially a drag cabaret with a terrific and moving arc and some jamming rock music, but it's also a tour-de-force for Cerveris, proving that Hedwig and Hollywood are a match made in heaven.

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