By Mark Hughes Cobb Staff Writer
October 28, 2009
Forty years after the '60s, what's the point? We're still in an
unpopular war or two; but there's no draft. Poor people are still
fighting, but because they signed up for paychecks and benefits, not
because their daddy didn't have connections. Students today care
about war, but they don't have as many reasons to fear as hippies did.
Maybe, like the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't plot of 'Hair,' there
almost isn't a point.
So you have to count energy, sensuality, a sense of communality and
life, life, life li (falsetto note here) hiiifffe!
You're probably familiar with the songs, even if you've never seen
the show. When was the last time a musical had as many hits, for as
many different singers, as 'Hair'? The funk-pop-rock-R&B sounds of
'Easy to Be Hard,' 'Let the Sunshine In,' 'Good Morning Starshine,'
'Frank Mills,' 'Aquarius' and the title track have been recorded by
artists as diverse as the Fifth Dimension, Shirley Bassey, Barbra
Streisand, Sarah Brightman, the Cowsills, Nina Simone, Oliver, the
Lemonheads, Strawberry Alarm Clock and Diana Ross.
Maybe you remember Milos Forman's acclaimed 1979 film, which added
plot, created stories and twisted some arcs.
But the stage show is a very different animal, one that breathes,
sweats and smells yay smoke machines and resounds with life even
if the words, the conveyed intent, seem almost like historical documents.
Yes, war is bad. Got it. No, people shouldn't be forced into lives
they don't want. Yes, poverty, racism and political corruption suck.
No, we shouldn't destroy the planet. Yes, we should love each other,
and let people live how they live, as long as no one else gets hurt.
These ideas weren't new in 1968 when 'Hair' debuted.
But they bear repeating. If anyone walks out of this production of
'Hair' tapping his or her head as much as his or her footsies,
pondering what lay underneath the original 'tribal love-rock
musical,' maybe that's the point.
UA graduate directing student Guy Fauchon created an organic, living
thing, his tribe, for a show that flows place to place like a river.
Or sometimes churns like a whirlpool. Something fluid, anyway.
It's a bold cast, and not just for the vaunted nudity, very much in
your face in the thrust stage of the Allen Bales Theatre, not hidden
behind gauze. But the tribe's courage is also in leaping into what
could be ludicrous characterizations, parodies of hippie lifestyle
which may be all most today know of the Age of Aquarius.
It's brave because they very nearly bore down to reality, taking a
leap across generations separated not just by chronology but by slabs
of cynicism, built and encrusted by post-'60s backlash, by Watergate,
Vietnam, Iran-Contra, by our seeming one-step-up, two-steps-back
A few times, the kids in 'Hair' do look funny, unintentionally. You
can only moon up at space for so long without appearing to be a
stoned clown who's blanked on the next line. States of altered
consciousness, by nature, are internalized; externalizing them has
plagued far more experienced actors than these.
More often, the tribe grabs you up in all that life. Of the original
show, Clive Barnes wrote in his New York Times review that it was so
likable because, well, 'I think it is simply that it is so likable.'
But it's actually easy to pin the charm on a sense of childlike, but
not always childish, abandon, and to Rado/Ragni/MacDermot's eclectic,
UA's cast has the stellar, warm voices needed, everything from
Bentley Black's (Claude) and Zaccaeus Kimbrell's (Woof) sweet tenors
to Lawson Hangartner's and Michael Luwoye's (Berger) raw, charismatic
power, to Laura Ballard's (Sheila) soaring soprano to Marianne
McConnell's earthy sensuality to Caroline Schmidt's (Crissy)
endearing swoony croon to Eryn Davis' (Dionne) almost overpowering soul.
And that's not even half the cast/tribe. Ordinarily it's a shortcut
to say the ensemble was fine throughout, but in this case basically
everyone is ensemble, and this animal is a collectively fine thing.
Even those with names and storylines take a backseat to the
atmosphere, the whole created also by the lights and set, the
costumes, the sounds, the movement.
About the music, audiences should be pleased, because each of the
biggies, plus two dozen others, take the stage, though honestly I
couldn't count all the numbers in this version. One or two of the
score may have been cut. Did I miss 'L.B.J.'? Nope. (Or was I mooning
up at the ceiling myself and miss it?). I was a little disappointed
in the rhythmic variation on 'Easy to Be Hard' from its usual
R&B/ballad style, because I would have liked to hear Ballard tear
into that final verse. And guitars, oddly for a funk-rock musical,
are too often missing.
But those are off-notes within the overall. By the time this 'Hair'
reaches its powerful 'Let the Sunshine In' climax, capped by a
distorted solo guitar played by Luwoye, the collective, the
collaborative, sweeps over you, takes you along on a journey back in
space, time and into the center of the mind.