Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre is presenting a rousing, passionate version of the glam-rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” directed by Grant McGowen, running through Feb. 2 with the current cast; then it runs Feb. 7-March 2 with different leads.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Trask and book by John Cameron Mitchell, who was the original Hedwig when the show opened Off-Broadway in 1998, Pinch ‘N’ Ouch’s production features Chad Darnell as the “internationally ignored song stylist” of undefinable gender. To elaborate a bit, Hedwig begins life as Hansel, a “girlyboy” who loves rock music but is stuck in East Berlin. He finds a boyfriend, an American soldier who says he can get Hansel to America if he will get a sex-change operation and they can leave as man and wife.

But things go awry, and Hansel, now Hedwig, finds herself in a Kansas trailer park, deserted by the boyfriend and still dreaming of glam-rock music stardom. To add insult to injury, her new boyfriend Tommy Gnosis steals Hedwig’s music and becomes a wildly successful rock star.

Much of this narrative is related to the audience by Hedwig, who has become a world-weary sophisticate in spite of herself, and a smoothly confident singer and raconteur, who tells us everything, with the aid of a six-piece onstage band. Mr. Darnell’s performance is savvy and accomplished; he has an easy, almost mesmerizing concentration, which makes it difficult to take your eyes off him.

This is fortunate, for much of this 90-minute show is Hedwig’s alone—but not quite all. Hedwig is aided by her assistant and back-up singer (and husband, sort of) Yitzhak, played extremely well by Courtney Lakin. Yitzhak becomes more important in the show’s moving final minutes; I shall reveal nothing here.

Interestingly, many of the musicians (the band is called The Angry Inch) are also actors, so the stage virtually vibrates with histrionic experience. They are Anthony Triceri, Peter Strickland, TJ Hassan, John A. Carter, and Steve Lock Franks, who is also music director. The projection artist is Thien Vuong—some wonderful background designs vie for our attention. And the theatre is very intimate: You can’t escape Hedwig even if you try (you won’t). And if you’re in the first couple of rows, be warned—you’re in lap dance range.

If you’re new to “Hedwig,” some of these goings-on may strike you as frivolous fantasy. It’s not. Even though the show is wildly theatrical and often funny, there’s also a touching humanity, an eternal note of sadness (as the poet says) just beneath the surface. Mr. Darnell’s Hedwig is no blushing ingenue; she’s a grown woman who has known pain, sorrow, and disappointment. Yet there is a gallant, fierce strength as well. As the show’s notes say, this play is for anyone who has felt life gave them an inch when they deserved a mile.

Director McGowen has the good sense to give some experienced actors room to play; his direction is seamless and invisible.

I haven’t mentioned the songs, like “The Origin of Love” or “Sugar Daddy”; go and discover them yourself, as well as this musical comedy/drama—which is a most welcome start for 2019.

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