Rocking `Hedwig' heats up Re-bar


Theater review

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Directed by Mark Gallagher. Thursday-Sunday through Feb. 11. Re-bar, 1114 Howell St., Seattle. $16. 206-323-0388.


Step aside, Tina. Move over, Madonna. Sit down, Courtney.

There's a new industrial-strength rock diva tearing up the town. Her name is Hedwig, and she will not be denied her 15 minutes of Sturm und Drang.

Make that 90 minutes, the length of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," which deserves a good, long blitzkrieg of a run at the Re-bar.

This Off-Broadway slam hit about a much-wronged German transvestite rock singer has finally crashed Seattle - where it fits right in, at the echt-grungy Re-bar club.

The show stars home-grown actor-singer Nick Garrison. And from his glittery eye shadow to his scrunchy leather boots, this versatile young performer has got his low-rent, Marlene Dietrich-goes-metal act nailed.

Part savvy parody of glam-rock excess, part master-blaster concert, and part camp-surreal psychodrama, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" resembles the average rock musical about as much as an Iggy Stooge marathon resembles a Barry Manilow recital.

Achtung, baby! Garrison's Hedwig bursts onto the tiny Re-bar stage oozing angst, rage and tattered Teutonic charisma while hissing, "Shape up, Seattle, or I'll take you all down with me!"

With help from a hard-driving backup combo led by keyboard player Jill Wainsguard, Garrison summons the lung power to turn composer Stephen Trask's head-banging rock tunes (i.e., "Tear Me Down," "Angry Inch") into howls of righteous pain. (For those unused to an audio onslaught in small places, earplugs are helpful.)

But Garrison also has the sensitivity and the pipes to get the most from the melodic story-ballads ("Wicked Little Town," "Exquisite Corpse") that give Trask's good score its variety and textures.

And there's more to his Hedwig than just belting the tunes, flaunting the fishnet stockings and Farrah Fawcett wig, spraying the audience with beer, and strutting around in a patch-tacky minidress.

Ludicrous and freakish as Hedwig may be, Garrison makes his/her tale of warped innocence and dashed love and stardom both hilarious and oddly compelling. Intoning the sly monologues penned by the show's author (and original star), John Cameron Mitchell, he also adroitly juggles wistful self-pity and dominatrix brassiness.

Poor, hard-luck Hedwig: She deserves her own week on "Oprah." What to do when you were born Hansel, an East German "girly-boy"? When your mom was a cold herring who didn't understand you or your love of Anne Murray? When, in your teens, you got railroaded by an American GI into a botched sex-change operation and bad marriage?

Woven through Hedwig's garish tale of woe are very funny references to a more spectacular heartbreak: a love affair with an American superstar, Tommy Gnosis.

Though "Hedwig" stirs real sympathy for its washed-up, sexual-outcast heroine, and ends with an ambiguous epiphany, it's mainly a hoot - that is, if you're not a stickler for good taste, and can savor a lot of zingers at the expense of Whitney Houston, Yes and other pop icons.

"Hedwig" gets a sharp, kinetic staging at Re-bar from Mark Gallagher, enriched by David Vercade's lighting. Jim Nelson, Steve Newton and Ben Ireland round out the strong house band. Also on hand is actor S.V. Rudinoff, whose nifty final contribution to the show should remain a surprise.