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Lena Hall on her history-making double play in 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'

Lena Hall on her history-making double play in 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'
Lena Hall backstage at the Hollywood Pantages, checking the fit of the wig she wears in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." (Stuart Palley / For The Times)

Lena Hall stares into the mirror in her dressing room backstage at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, where she is  making musical history in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”  

To her right is a short, brown wig with sideburns. A single, sorrowful tendril of hair curls gently over the white plastic foam forehead of the wig stand. She meticulously shades the sides of her nose and the edges of her jaw to accentuate the sharp angles in her face. Her lips thin as she tightens them. She thickens her eyebrows with heavy makeup until they are four times their original size. Her eyes harden. She segments her long hair and pins it in tight curls against her head.

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The crowning touch comes as wig supervisor Steven Perfidia lowers the hairpiece onto her head. If you walked in and saw her for the first time under low lights, you would be fooled. Hall has become a man.

"What does gender even mean? Does it identify anyone as a person?" Hall asks.

This is a question she has given a great deal of thought to, out of curiosity and necessity. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is about a gender-queer rock singer named Hedwig, born male, subjected to a botched sex change operation and married to a servile  man named Yitzhak, who is a drag queen. Hall was the first to play Yitzhak when the show made its Broadway debut in 2014.

I feel that a woman playing Hedwig sends a very necessary message to the world.


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Hall still plays Yitzhak in the touring version of the show, which is at the Pantages through Nov. 27. However, on Sundays and the final Friday of the run, you can find her in the starring role of Hedwig, normally performed by "Glee" star Darren Criss.

For Hall to wear these multiple wigs, so to speak, requires more gender-bending than the notoriously gender-bending show has previously put forth.

After all, this is a woman who usually plays a man who likes to dress as a woman. She won a Tony for her efforts on Broadway. Now she's also a woman playing a man who tried to become a woman — and was left with a 1-inch mound of flesh between her legs and a sexual identity that embraces both sides of her complex nature.

Although women have played Hedwig in the past, the role is most often played by men and most closely associated with its creator, John Cameron Mitchell, who followed a 1998 off-Broadway premiere with a 2001 cult film adaptation.

In her heart, Hall says, she thinks Hedwig is a woman. As a child, the character is described as "a slip of a girlie boy," so even before the sex change there was a feminine identity. Because of this, Hall says she simply needs to revert to her true self in order to play Hedwig.

"The men have to do the flipside of what I have to do with Yitzhak," she says of the male actors. "They have to stand more girlie, be more girlie, contort their bodies into this girlie structure. So for a woman to play Hedwig is just complete and utter relaxation."

The role of Yitzhak is the second biggest in the show, but it unfolds mostly in the background. Yitzhak only wants to please Hedwig. He caters to her every need — handing her mike stands and moving around cables, then retreating to perform backup vocals while Hedwig struts, shouts and sings her broken heart out.

After spending a year in the shadow of Hedwigs played by Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall and Mitchell, Hall realized two things: She wanted to play Hedwig more than anything in the world, and she already knew the role backward and forward.

When the opportunity arose to reprise the role of Yitzhak in the touring production, Hall wasn't certain she wanted to. She had said an emotional goodbye to the character when she left the Broadway show. But when the job came with the opportunity to play Hedwig once a week, she jumped at the chance.

She needed only five days to be completely off book for Hedwig, including blocking and choreography.  An actor typically would take a month or so.

"No one has the knowledge of the show that I do," says Hall. "Just from sitting onstage and watching each person play Hedwig every night and all the different ways it's done."

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Hall played Hedwig for the first time in San Francisco in October. At the end of the show, Hedwig removes her costume and stands naked except for a pair of tight shorts. Hall bound her breasts to play the role. But suddenly standing there in her shorts, she was moved to remove her bindings. She says the moment was a powerful revelation for her as an actress, as well as for the audience.

"You're stripping away the perceived layers that people put on this personality and all of a sudden you're down to who you are as a whole," she says. "I feel that a woman playing Hedwig sends a very necessary message to the world."

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"Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

Where: Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 27; Hall performs as Hedwig on Sunday evenings and Nov. 25. No performance Thanksgiving Day.

Tickets: $35 and up (subject to change)

Information: (800) 982-2787, www.hollywoodpantages.com

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