'Hedwig' doesn't show audience his/her heart

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

Grade: C

8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Through July 19 (no show July 6). $22 and $25; VIP seats $35. Actor's Express, 887 W. Marietta St. N.W., Atlanta. 404-607-7469, www.actors-express.com.

Bottom line: Potential unrealized.

Poor Hedwig, sad Hedwig. Daddy's long gone and mommy's cold as ice. The American GI who loved her insisted on gender-reassignment surgery as her ticket to the States. The surgery, uh, missed, and she's left with an angry inch in an unfortunate locale.

What's a girl to do? Take the show on the road? Turn it into a cultish rock musical? But of course.

Hedwig is the transsexual alter ego of a German-born girly-boy named Hansel. As she follows another former love (rock star Tommy Gnosis) from town to town, playing dive bars while he sells out arenas, she tells her story mostly in concert and monologue.

To those in the know, this is likely a delicious reunion.

To those of us meeting Hedwig for the first time, it's a love-hate kind of thing.

"Hedwig" was born in 2000 on the off-Broadway stage. In 2001, her movie entertained multitudes. Actor's Express, which staged the show in 2003, envisions this reprise —- with a new set, star and director —- as a slam-bang finish to its 20th anniversary season.

Artistic Director Freddie Ashley's reimagining has plenty of slam-bang, particularly with its rocking band the Angry Inch, again led by Angela Motter, who returns as the devoted and angel-voiced Yitzhak. What it lacks is enough heart and soul to sell its themes —- that we all want to find love, that we all want to know ourselves as completely as possible and that we want to like the people we become.

This is, supposedly, Hedwig's universal journey, but Craig Waldrip's ride is all attitude and poses. He clearly works hard, in spiky 6-inch heels no less, but never reveals the Hedwig beneath the heavy blond wig or beyond the glam-skank hot pants. He rarely transits past her pout or her pelvis.

The text (by the original Hedwig, John Cameron Mitchell), brims with wit, sass and wry observations. It talks about "the geography of human contact" and how Hedwig is torn in two, like the city of Berlin was by its Wall. Too many of composer Stephen Trask's song lyrics are muddled, however, either by a lack of balance between band and singer or by Waldrip's habit of grazing the microphone with his lips. It's too bad because he has a wonderfully emotive voice when it comes through as it does on the ballads.

"Hedwig" won't be everyone's cup of tea, or even pint of ale. The double-entendre-laced text is definitely for an adult crowd. What it comes down to is relationships: How intimately you know Hedwig before the show will determine how much you enjoy her in it.

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