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'Hedwig and Angry Inch' rocks and delights crowd

Strong individual performances make cult hit work well

Aaron Swenson poses for a police mug shot in Plan-B Theatre's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Aaron Swenson poses for a police mug shot in Plan-B Theatre's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Greg Ragland

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, Plan-B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner Center, through Nov. 27 (355-2787 or Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission).

Probably the last place in the world one would expect the off-Broadway cult hit "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" to work is Utah. But thanks to a couple of strong individual performances, it does work, and it works well.

The story of the down-and-out West Berlin-turned-American-trailer-park-rocker is back in Salt Lake City with the same local cast that made it a surprise hit in 2003. Hedwig is a gender-confused boy growing up, who is abused when he isn't being ignored. He befriends an American soldier who convinces him to get a sex change operation, which is badly botched, leaving Hedwig with the inspiration for the name of the band he would later front, "The Angry Inch."

After moving to America, Hedwig and the soldier split up, and Hedwig meets struggling musician Tommy Gnosis. Gnosis eventually steals Hedwig's material, leaves Hedwig and goes on to become a big rock star, while Hedwig is left with nothing.

The setting for the play, which is a mix of David Bowie meets "Rocky Horror," is a stage for a small-time rock concert. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is performing to the Rose Wagner crowd while Hedwig recalls his/her troubled life. Opening the stage door in the back, the sounds of Gnosis playing a sold-out Delta Center show can be heard, infuriating the dejected Hedwig.

Aaron Swenson returns with the wigs and the leather miniskirts to play Hedwig. Swenson has appeared in several local productions, but this is by far his strongest role. And really, for this play, it has to be.

The show is essentially a 90-minute monologue mixed with a dozen songs, and it's going to succeed or fall on its face based on the actor playing the main character. Hedwig has irreverent humor, but the topics can also become quite weighty — if not depressing. This requires Swenson to deliver a strong performance as Hedwig, and to go on that emotional roller coaster for every show.

Jeanette Puhich returns as Hedwig's current angry back-up singer Yitzak. The Angry Inch, comprised of keyboardist/guitarist David Evanoff, along with drummer Van Christensen, guitarist Christopher Glade and bassist Alex Rowe, deliver a tight performance throughout, with songs such as "Sugar Daddy" and "Wicked Little Town."

Sensitivity rating: language, sexual themes; for a mature audience.