"Hair:" Peace and love spread beyond the stage
By Maddy Glover
February 8th, 2010
For those performing in and producing the tribal love-rock musical
"Hair," it could not be a better time. Riding on last year's exciting
Broadway success, the musical's revival has been adapted for a
University of Maine audience. Despite differences in generation and
perspective, all involved share an intense love for the musical
production and its message.
"[It's] anything but a relic," Director Marcia Douglas said. She
explained that the 2009 revival was merely a continuation of the
show's original international success, having more than 35 tourings
within its first decade.
"Sometimes you have to do a show like that, especially in a time like
right now," said UMaine student actor Justin Zang, "We're in a time
of a despair; we're at war with different countries. It's an eye
opener, it really is."
Zang acknowledged the mature thematic nature of the show, citing
nudity and depictions of drug use.
Debuting in 1967, the show focuses on Claude played by Zang a
college dropout who has just received his draft card for the Vietnam War.
"There's that constant tearing going on," said Zang of the decision
his character must make, to follow the revolutionary youth ideology
of the era and avoid conscription, or to conform to the wishes of his
parents and traditional American patriotism.
The crux of the plot Claude's decision to join his "Age of
Aquarius" friends in burning his draft card or to comply with his
conservative parents' beliefs is truly told through the tribe, a
group of 31 peers exemplifying the hippie counterculture and sexual
revolution of the era.
"It's loosely based on his decision at the time," Zang said.
"Everyone's burning their draft card. [They're] being called to the
draft and not showing up."
He explained that there was a five-year prison sentence, as well as
the possibility of a fine for draft-dodging.
"The real main character is the tribe itself," Zang said. "We all
really work as a unit. It's been the most interesting show for me."
Zang said he enjoyed the lack of clichéd characters, like the bad guy
or the unattainable girl, in comparison with past productions he's
performed in. "Hair" is Zang's first UMaine production. A Wiscasset
native, he performed with the Heartwood Regional Theater Company in
high school and has always loved theater, despite being a music
education major at UMaine.
The holistic feeling of the tribe pervades the entire production,
winding between the cast, orchestra and audience cast members
prance down Hauck Auditorium aisles, pausing to jump on a chair,
pelvic thrusting to the beat in front of the nearest audience member.
"Since I've been doing music direction, this is the show I've always
wanted to do," music director Danny Williams said. "I think it's a
great show for college students to both perform and to see."
Williams is a big fan of the production himself, having seen the
Broadway show twice in March and September of last year. "Hair" won
both a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and a Drama Desk
Award last year.
The "stupendous music," as described by Williams, frames the brightly
swirling lighting and era-appropriate costumes, transforming Hauck
Auditorium into the tribe's world, controversy and all. The tribe
irreverently folds the American flag during the twangy "Don't Put it
Down" and lets loose during the ritualistic burning of draft cards to
the "Hare Krishna" mantra. The UMaine production will even include
the infamous nude scene at the end of act one.
Williams acknowledged the variability of the show, saying that the
lack of structure and rigidity reflects the times.
"The orchestra is given the basics, and they make up the rest,"
Williams said. "Really it's up to the actor to breathe life into the
characters. In some shows, that would be very inappropriate, but in
this show, it is exactly what is required."
According to Williams, approximately 85 percent of the musical is
song. He stressed the importance of the ensemble performance, saying
that the show is not a usual "book musical."
"The music, score, singing really are the heart and soul of the
piece," Williams said. He feels the production was well-conceived and
well-written, and that the music is the message.
"I love it, I really love it," Douglas said. Hair "comes from a time
period when I was growing up and turning into who I've become. It
speaks to me because I've experienced what is in the play at the time
it was actually going on."
Douglas explained an unanticipated challenge she faced during
preliminary rehearsals: a lack of cultural understanding. Realizing
that none of the actors were alive during that era, she cultivated
the necessary understanding by asking actors to interview family
members over holiday break, who were alive during the late 1960s.
Actors reported their findings to the group when they returned a week
early to UMaine for intensive trust-building and improvisational
exercises, in addition to regularly scheduled rehearsals. Zang spoke
of the chemistry between cast members, and the original hesitation
between theater and music majors to commingle. This hesitation did
not last long.
"I think that helped make it personal for them, hearing it from their
own family members," Douglas said. "If we're ever going to grow up as
a human race, [we need to understand that] there are different ways
to deal with conflict. Violence is not the only way that's what
this musical is about."
"We've developed a kind of trust and a group ethos that is really at
the heart of the show," Douglas said.
"Hair" excels, despite technical problems
By William P. Davis
February 15th, 2010
"Hair" has earned iconic status, for reasons unknown. Sure, it's
meant to typify an era characterized by peace and love, but it can
easily come off as bastardizing and commercializing the biggest
counter-culture movement this country has seen.
The musical, which was groundbreaking at its conception in 1967 but
retains little of its shock value today, portrays a tribe of
drug-inducing free-loving hippies as Claude, the center of the tribe,
mulls whether to join up after he's drafted into the Vietnam War.
The performance was a marked improvement from last year's "Side
Show," although this year's show again excelled despite the material.
The songwriting is far from the best the chorus of the title song
includes the stellar line "Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair."
But it's still easy to appreciate the joy that was amply conveyed by the cast.
The most unfortunate aspect of the show was that technical problems
often obscured the talent of the actors. The band often overwhelmed
the singing, making "Dead End" and "Black Boys" unintelligible and
masking "Donna" in spots. Microphones often cut out, making voices
hard to hear even in the third row.
The songs featuring the entire cast were powerfully sung but were
betrayed by loose choreography. "Let The Sun Shine In" was especially
powerful, but the titular number of "Hair," which relies on tight
choreography to cover weak songwriting, suffered from uncoordinated dancing.
The show teetered between professional and juvenile. The endings of
the acts were solid and convincing, but numbers such as "Electric
Blues" and "Black Boys" came off more like a high school production,
with amateur costume design in the latter number distracting from
more pertinent elements of the show.
Justin Zang, in the role of Claude, was a less-than-convincing
hippie. He was a stronger singer than an actor, and scenes that
relied heavily on his acting such as when Claude rips up his
library card were unfortunate lulls in the otherwise engaging show.
Matthew Bessette, as Berger, provided most of the energy and comedy
in the show. He outperformed the rest of the cast, stealing the show
from Zang in the title number. His asides at the beginning of the
show especially his discourse with the audience were the most
enjoyable part of the first act.
Adam Blais, who shined as Buddy Foster in last year's "Side Show,"
played an amusing Woof, though his antics were sometimes over the top.
The stage was built right up to the first row of seats, treating
lucky theatergoers to full views of the moon, and two wings that
extend into the seats allow the action to overflow into the audience.
The already light plot was further obfuscated when the lyrics were
incoherent. The only clear part of the musical was the ending, which
is powerful and poignant on its own.
But the point of "Hair" is less the plot than the message, which the
cast, for the most part, conveyed with extraordinary conviction. The
rapport between the cast members was evident, especially when the
tribe's members had scenes in which they had more cause to interact
than during a musical number.
The audience's enthusiasm was evident in the finale, when the cast
invites members of the audience onto the stage to take part in a
be-in. But it's too bad the show doesn't draw the audience in until
it's time to go home.
"Hair" will continue its run Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30
p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Hauck Auditorium. Admission is $12; free