It's easiest not to think of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH as a musical. It's easier to think of it as a concert at a vaguely dive club by an emo performer whose ex is doing a stadium concert across town. That's John Cameron Mitchell's plot point, and Stephen Trask's musical conceit. At Ephrata Performing Arts Center, director Edward R. Fernandez has helped the hit show even further by turning down the decibels. Not only can one hear the song lyrics clearly - and what lyrics they are - but it allows the show to make sense. And, interestingly, it makes a rock set by a loud German singer and her band become intimate - rock cabaret, if you will.

Let's get down to the basics: Zander Gawn is incredible as Hedwig. If you aren't aware that Hedwig, the lead singer for the band Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is a trans woman who was the victim of botched surgery and a rotten husband, you know now. Gawn gives fringed sequin boots and a Yankee Go Home mini skirt everything they can rock, he has attitude to spare, and a voice that doesn't quit. To give a newer performer who's never had a lead on a main stage before a nearly one-person show takes as much in the way of guts as it does brains, and the gamble has paid off amazingly. Gawn is the best Hedwig I've seen in the past couple of years.

Hedwig is backed by her current partner, Yitzhak, played by Elizabeth Checchia. It's a small part comparatively but it can't be underestimated. Yitz is a retired drag queen who does Hedwig's soprano backup vocals; Hedwig is a man's part, and Yitz is a woman's. How crucial this casting is doesn't emerge until the end of the show.

What looks like a rock set performed by a massively dysfunctional lead with a yen to spill her whole life story around her songs is a massive work of gender dialectic, political discourse on international relations and on America's identity crises, and a huge modern retelling of Plato's Symposium, most particularly in the show's biggest hit, "The Origin of Love."

But besides that number, prepare to enjoy "Wicked Little Town" and "Hedwig's Lament," two great songs delivered by Hedwig in fine style as well. Gawn's Hedwig, for all Hedwig's discussion of her past and extreme disclosure of her present, is as female as Hedwig can be, making her last scene with Yitz particularly profound.

Allow yourself to spend time in the dingiest dive in Ephrata, punctuated with more Amish jokes than may be legal, and prepare to leave enriched and enlightened. Through November 3 at Ephrata Performing Arts Center.

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From This Author Marakay Rogers

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