By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 16, 2001 at 5:20 AM

The rock opera is past its prime, of this there's no doubt. Except for a few hardcore fans, there haven't been a whole lot of rock and roll-centered musicals written recently ("Rent" has rock and roll tunes, but it's not really about the music, is it?).

That's what makes "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" such an unusual film. While its psychedelic animation bits and high-energy rock and roll musical numbers would have been right at home in the early '70s, there's not much of this stuff to be found in theatres nowadays.

Luckily, there's more to "Hedwig" than flamboyant costumes, retro titles and cartoons, and incisive and often witty songs with loud guitars. There's also a good story and writer/director John Cameron Mitchell, who stars as the defiant Hedwig, and gave himself some great lines packed full of acidic wit.

Mitchell wrote "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" with Stephen Trask (who appears as a band member in the film). It began life as an off-Broadway hit that tells the story of an East German boy named Hansel. He takes an unusual route to the west and later transforms himself into the glam-punk misfit Hedwig, who leads a hard-rocking band around the country in the wake of a major tour by Tommy Gnosis.

Hedwig, it seems, is responsible for the songs on Gnosis' mega-selling disc that has turned him into a superstar, although Gnosis and his record company deny it. There are a number of plot twists, but I'll refrain from sharing for fear of giving away too much.

But, rest assured, the story is an intriguing and often heartbreaking one and Mitchell shines as the alternately needy and headstrong Hedwig. The songwriting is good, better than most rock operas, and the movie's tempo is well-considered, with scenes and songs being sequenced with the care of a precisely crafted concept album.

There are some racier moments in the 90-minute film and it deserves its R rating, so leave the kids -- and especially sensitive adults -- at home. But fans of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" will likely love "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and should queue up now.

Grade: A-

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" opens Fri., Aug. 17 at Landmark's Oriental Theatre. Click here for showtimes.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.