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"Hedwig and the Angry Inch," a rock-and-roll tale about a trans female impersonator whose actual gender is a bit foggy, constitutes one of popular theater's most-unlikely premises -- and is a complete hoot from start to finish.

Funny and tragic by turns, this story by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask about pulling your life together after a botched sex-change operation comes with a throbbing rock score, and in the case of the Detroit Public Theatre's production through Feb. 29 at Ant Hall in Hamtramck, two outstanding performances in the principal roles.

The Detroit News caught up with "Hedwig" director and DPT co-producing artistic director Courtney Burkett to talk East Berlin, trans visibility, and which of the show's songs makes her cry every time.

 What do you like about "Hedwig?"

Courtney Burkett: "What’s interesting is this piece is 20 years old, but it doesn’t feel dated. Our relationship to trans people has changed so much, and 'Hedwig' has somehow changed with the times. You don’t know what to expect when you come in. People are unclear where Hedwig’s coming from and where we’re going. So to see the audience soften and ultimately join with her is a really powerful journey."

Is this your first production of "Hedwig?"

"There was a production I worked on with my former theater. That’s when I really fell in love with Hedwig the character. It's remarkable to come back to this piece after a long period of time. I’ve been in conversation with this text for about 20 years."

Hedwig was maimed in a sex-change operation. Is this really just a pity party?

"No -- she’s all about looking at what you’ve got available, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and making the most of it. As she says: You take the wig out of the box."

What do you like about the way Scott Anthony Joy plays Hedwig?

"Scott’s very talented, but also very, very skilled – he has access to all the resources an actor needs. And he just has a really lovely heart, and a sweetness and vulnerability that he brings to the role. Honestly, I had other people in mind for the part, but when I saw Scott's audition I thought, 'Let’s do it.'"

Lily Talevski, the diminutive actress who plays Hedwig's boyfriend Yitzhak, is great. Where'd you find her?

"Lily recently graduated from Oakland University, and is living in New York. We brought her back to Detroit. She’s a teeny-tiny, adorable young woman. So to play a man was a stretch for her, but we think she does a marvelous job. And she has this huge, beautiful voice."

So what's your favorite song in the play?

"It changes every day. 'Origin of Love' is spectacular, but 'Midnight Radio' makes me cry almost every time." 

What's the message underlying "Hedwig?"

"Hedwig's coming from East Berlin – a place where self-expression is really frowned upon, and where there’s no opportunity for individuality. That’s such an important source of her character – she’s coming from a place that’s all about walls. So identity, acceptance and love – that’s what it’s all about."

mhodges@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'

Through Feb. 29

Detroit Public Theatre / staged at Ant Hall, 2320 Caniff, Hamtramck

$40 - general admission; $30 - seniors 65+; $25 - under 30 years of age

(313) 576-5111

detroitpublictheatre.org 

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