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Hedwig heats up the stage

Wade McCollum improves on a great role

A sizzling Wade McCollum leaves no doubt why he won a recent Drammy Award for best actor.

He and his rock band blow the roof off Theater, Theatre in 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' as Triangle Productions reprises its 'best musical' winner to a full house.

McCollum owns the stage in the title role of John Cameron Mitchell's bizarre 1998 off-Broadway rock opera about an East German transvestite rocker with a botched sex change operation, who nonetheless strikes a chord with middle-class audiences.

It seems an unlikely subject for a mainstream smash, but then how much money would you have invested in 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' or 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'?Ê

Campy, angry, self-deprecating and sexy, McCollum flirts outrageously with the audience and yet remains tremendously sympathetic. He pulls off amazing acrobatic moves and ad-libs shamelessly to make what is obviously a well-written role even better. Best of all, he and his band rock hard (Rolling Stone calls the play the first rock opera that actually rocks).

Band members don't speak a single line, and still they won a Drammy for best ensemble. Todd Chatalas (guitar), Don Lieber (bass), Michael Partlow (drums) and Brian Michael (keyboards) are experienced stage musicians, and they effectively manage to look bored, as if they've been on the road forever.

At once comical and touching, Hedwig describes growing up in East Berlin as Hansel Schmidt, having a sex change operation, marrying a GI sergeant, then being abandoned in Junction City, Kan.

The show is essentially a live performance in a tiny club, so McCollum is able to work in a number of 'Hi, Portland' jokes.

Illuminating a tragic story with black humor, Hedwig uses her pain to generate laughs. She amuses with tales of listening to the radio with her head in the oven Ñ 'to the greats, like Toni Tennille and Debby Boone' Ñ while her mother teaches sculpture to limbless students.