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A couple of times during "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," the touring national production that landed like a peroxide-blonde valkyrie at the Eccles Theater on Tuesday night for a four-night run, the title character added a phrase to her sentences: "especially these days."
It was a conscious nod to the still-simmering political tensions that boiled over in this year's election. It also was a reminder that John Cameron Mitchell's Frankenstein creation the East German transsexual rock goddess come to America in search of the love who will make her whole again is as lively and as relevant as ever.
Rock bottom on the abandoned set of a failed musical version of "The Hurt Locker" is an appropriate starting point for Hedwig (Euan Morton), "the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you," and her backing band, The Angry Inch (Justin Craig, Matt Duncan, Tim Mislock and Peter Yanowitz).
Hedwig launches into her life's story, in a performance that's equal parts rock concert, stand-up comedy and bitter confessional. As she does, her much-abused immigrant husband and roadie Yitzhak (Hannah Corneau) attends to her many moods and wig changes.
Hedwig tells of her early days as Hansel, a boy in East Berlin with no father and a cold mother, growing up on pop music overheard from American radio. Then Hansel meets an American GI, who wants to marry the boy and take him to America but only if he becomes a woman. A botched sex-change operation, as she describes in the fierce song "Angry Inch," leaves Hedwig with "a one-inch mound of flesh, with a scar running through it like a sideways grimace on an eyeless face."
Abandoned by the soldier in a Kansas trailer park, Hedwig does what (and who) she must to get by, until she decides to reinvent herself as a pop star. She meets Tommy, a moody teen whom Hedwig grooms into the rock star Tommy Gnosis a celebrity so big, Hedwig tells the Salt Lake City audience, he's playing a few blocks from the Eccles at the Vivint Smart Home Arena while Hedwig's show is happening.
For Hedwig, the succession of influences and partners her mother, the soldier, the rock star, Yitzhak is part of an endless quest for her other half. She explains this in composer/lyricist Stephen Trask's most beautiful song, "The Origin of Love," which explores (with John Bair's moving animation projected on a scrim in front of the stage) the ancient Greek notion that we descended from four-legged, two-headed creatures who were split in two by Zeus's thunderbolts, leaving us incomplete and constantly searching for the one who will complete us.
For much of the story, the mercurial Hedwig seems more than enough just on her own. Morton captures all of Hedwig's larger-than-life glory a mix of Beyonce's fierceness, Joan Rivers' humor and battered soul in a ferocious performance, complete with impressive onstage costume changes.
The show gradually transforms from a solo act to a duet. In a transformation as remarkable as Morton's, Hannah Corneau is dynamic as Yitzhak, who starts standing up to Hedwig's abuse, sings for himself (with the plaintive "The Long Grift," a song absent from Mitchell's 2001 movie version), and finally reveals his inner fabulousness.
By the soaring finale a medley that shifts from the sad ballad of "Hedwig's Lament" to the punk-rock scream of "Exquisite Corpse" to the hands-in-the-air affirmation of "Midnight Radio" the play has stripped away the stage debris and the glittery excess of Hedwig's outer persona. What is left is raw and real and revelatory. Especially these days.
'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch," the national touring production of the rock musical.
When • Reviewed Dec. 20; continues Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.
Where • Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30 to $70, available at https://artsaltlake.org.