So, there I was, sitting with fifteen hundred middle-aged ex-hippies, paying fifty bucks a seat to remind myself of what it was like living on foodstamps.
"Hair" is 34 years old now, and some elements of this 1960's period-piece seem pretty distant. Mostly, its radicalism -- social, political and theatrical -- is by now either pretty tame or subsumed into the contemporary. What is still fresh is the energy and commitment of talented young people invested in making this their world, their ideals, and their show.
This production had plenty of vitality, some inventive interpretations and a well-directed cast that found just the right balance of fun, chaos and commitment. Some technical problems marred the opening, but this was a revival with enough re-invention to feel new.
Director and choreographer David Armstrong clearly did this as a labor of love, and his company, (all of whom are far too young to remember the period) seems to understand everything important about that time. The show is well cast, with four excellent performers as Berger (Cheyenne Jackson), Claude (Louis Hobson) Dionne (Lisa Estridge-Gray), and Sheila (Nancy Colton). Armstrong's choreography is snappy and original. Perhaps the best achievement of this production was in the freedom it felt to not simply re-create the sound of the cast album, but to allow new talents to make the songs their own. That wasn't always successful, but it was always interesting, and it went a long way toward insuring that the show wasn't a time-capsule, but truly a period piece.
The storyline, which has never been "Hair"s strength, was coherent and remarkably moving. It's mostly just reckless, free-spirited fun, but the second act turns to a much more substantial concern when it addresses the Viet Nam War as it immediately affects Claude. Armstong really nailed this tricky shift. In large part, that was the result of a rather amazing dream/hallucination sequence, which contained more genuine imagination and creative confidence than many shows in their entirety. That allowed the solid performance of Hobson as Claude to coalesce the rest of the ensemble, and to drive the show home.
Important as ensemble is to this show, Cheyenne Jackson was a standout from the first moment of the show. Berger is the lightning rod for this "tribe", and Jackson had tons of charisma, sex-appeal and pure charm. A confident and appealing singer, he also showed dramatic credibility in his relationship with Sheila and Claude. Counter-balanced by the impressive vocal talent of Lisa Estridge-Gray, and Nancy Colton, there was plenty of musical firepower to front the solid chorus. Unfortunately, Ms. Estridge-Gray suffered most from the shrill tuning of the sound system. That was especially regrettable because many of her vocal stylings were inventive and quite wonderful. Hopefully, all of the sound problems will soon be adjusted.
As Sheila, Nancy Colton is a very talented singer and actress, but there were times when her interpretations were bothersome. Clearly, her contemporary country-western style is very accomplished, but I'm not sure it suited the material. In "Easy To Be Hard", which she sang to only her own guitar accompaniment, the character's dramatic intention and her vocal interpretation seemed quite contradictory. Ms. Colton was strong rather than wounded, confident rather than insecure, knowing rather than newly disillusioned. I simply had the feeling that she more often fit the songs to her own manner than she found the manner of the song.
Mr. Armstrong's choice to include seemingly every song that has ever been a part of the show was also dubious. Most of the numbers that were dropped at one time or another were dropped for good reason. With them, the show is simply too long.
That said, it's also filled with delights. Rodney Hicks did a terrific "Colored Spade", and enlivened the stage throughout the evening. Kathleen Young made "Frank Mills" a touching little tidbit signifying so much more than its minor subject. Benjamin Shrader had elegance and dignity as Woof.Paris Remillard and Timothy Glynn did the best "What a Piece of Work is Man" I've ever heard. And everyone felt fully committed to every moment on stage.
"Hair" is going to be around for a long time. It has an amazingly entertaining and memorable score, filled with songs that not only connect us to a moment in time, but that also capture a sense of the vitality and urgency of life being embraced in the face of imminent death. Its questioning of blind patriotism is more relevant now than ever. Above all, it's an opportunity for the young to do a show which is, more than anything else, about being young, and growing much older much more quickly than you ever expected. Like those of us graying kids in the audience.
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