Message of 1960's musical 'Hair' endures
By KATHY L. GREENBERG
Published: May 1, 2010
As a child of Reaganomics, "Miami Vice," Izod shirts and Drakkar
Noir, naturally I was wary of American Stage in the Park's production
of the '60s-drenched "Hair." Would I be able to relate to the notions
of peace, freedom and tribal love steeped in patchouli? Would the
show be a tired toupee slapped on the balding heads of nostalgic ex-hippies?
Happily, the production far exceeded my Generation Xpectations.
In 1968, when Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot premiered
their counterculture rock musical on Broadway, America was knee-deep
in the Vietnam War. "Hair" spoke out against the war, conservatism
and prescribed reality. It pressed every hot-button issue in its
purple-hazed celebration of individuality.
Many of these issues still abound and appearances are decidedly
different now. It's true: the more things change, the more they stay
the same. But if anything, "Hair" proves that looks don't matter, nor
do the means people use to communicate a conviction. It's the message
itself that withstands changing times and fashions.
Without sacrificing the era-specific vibe, director Eric Davis and
his jubilant cast blurred the 40-odd years separating buckskin vests
and Prada. The actors generated a genuinely happy, good-natured
energy even before the show started. Darlene Hope, who played Dionne,
worked the crowd with hugs, flowers and peaceful greetings. She also
During the performance, the actors dropped off stage and made contact
with audience members. Berger (Jeremy Hays) gave his pants to one
lucky lady, but she had to give them back. There was also
hand-holding with the actors and flowers distributed randomly. The
effect was startlingly welcoming, like a giant, collective, nonjudgmental hug.
Comparisons between earlier times and recent political and economic
conditions were inevitable and ironic. For the number "Colored
Spade," Hud (Clinton C. H. Harris) rattled off a list of stereotypes
about African-Americans. But then he mentioned President Barack
Obama, effectively thumbing his nose at those fallacies. It was a
proud moment. Diane (Aleshea Harris) masqueraded as Abraham Lincoln.
If she hadn't been African-American, the punchline would have fallen flat.
While Act I was overwhelmingly upbeat, ending with bare tushies and
strategically placed pasties, Claude's (Jonathan Hack) battlefield
death cast a pall on Act II. Feel-good grooviness succumbed to
uncomfortable real-world horrors and the hard fact that flower power
can only push so far. The show concluded on a rather sad note, with
the affectionate actors urging - nearly begging - for better days
with "Let the Sun Shine In."
IF YOU GO
WHEN: Through May 16; 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
WHERE: Demens Landing Park, on the corner of Bayshore Blvd. S.E. and
First Ave. S.E., St.
HOW MUCH: $11-$27; call (727) 823-7529 or visit www.american stage.org
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
Don't miss American Stage in the Park's brilliant production of Hair
May 3, 2010
by Mark E. Leib
One of the many virtues of the wonderful production of Hair currently
playing at Demens Landing is its reminder that the youth movement of
the late 1960s stood for a genuine revolution in American values.
Watching the passionate, perfectly rendered hippies sing and dance in
this superb Park musical, you're delighted to remember if you're
old enough, or just love the music enough that the flower children
of 40 years ago had a daring, coherent worldview, one that included
an honest ethic of love, a real acceptance of racial diversity, a
rejection of money fever, a search for sexual sanity, a hatred of war
and militarism and a faith that mind-altering drugs just might
represent a viable response to the mystery of being alive.
When the splendid cast of this rousing American Stage show asserts
that it's the Age of Aquarius and that we should "Let the Sunshine
In," there's not a trace of irony: authors Gerome Ragni and James
Rado, writing during the movement they celebrated, grasped everything
that was beautiful and courageous in the counterculture, and, with
composer Galt MacDermot, gave it song and, perhaps, immortality. The
American Stage Hair doesn't just bring us the music, it brings us the
best of a generation's worldview, and it's enough to make you wonder
just what you're doing with your life now. If the show leaves out the
underside, from life-threatening drug overdoses to promiscuity and
STD's, well, we have endless confessional memoirs on the subjects.
Hair's after something different: to trace the shape of a new hope,
as it appeared proudly for a few seasons in cities and towns across
this continent. If you were there, or if you simply want to know what
it was like, you really shouldn't miss this splendid production.
The show doesn't have much plot: it's mostly about a group of 14
young men and women who express their delight in life and
relationships, and who watch more or less helplessly as the one
called Claude gets called up by his draft board in preparation for a
posting to Vietnam. On Scott Cooper's two-level set, bedecked with
peace signs and painted posters saying "A Friend with Weed is a
Friend Indeed" and "Mobilize Against the War," these characters make
fun of parents and racists, argue a little ("How can people be so
heartless?") and exult in being young and turned-on.
A few characters stand out: there's Claude himself (the talented
Jonathan Hack), who pretends to come from Manchester, England
(actually, he's from Flushing), and Jeanie (the ingratiating Stefanie
Clouse), his girlfriend, who's pregnant with another man's child.
There's Berger (Jeremy Hays), who pulls off his pants as he walks
through the audience, and sings about the time he mistook the Statue
of Liberty for his girlfriend Donna, and there's Woof (Dick Baker),
who tells the audience that "I love you and we are all one."
The skillful Aleshea Harris plays Abraham Lincoln in a stovepipe hat,
and the terrific singer Darlene Hope tells us just what's so
attractive about "White Boys." During a segment emphasizing the
horrors of war, Crissy (Alex Covington) and Jeanie sing "What a Piece
of Work is Man," a praise of the human creature taken directly from
Shakespeare, with the implication that such a being is too precious
to be used as a target in an unnecesary war. And there's Sheila
(Laura Hodos), who gives Berger a shirt he doesn't want, and who
reminds us that even hippies can't keep pain out their lives.
There's lots more: for example the assault on censorship titled
Sodomy, and the corporeal exultation of I Got Life. There's some
nostalgic chanting of "Peace Now, Freedom Now," and "Hell No, We
Won't Go." There's a sequence in which each character stands in a
drug line that's right and there's Claude's stoned assertion that
"it's the age of the electronic dinosaur."
And mostly there are the famous songs, from "Hair" to "Good Morning
Starshine." Cynthia Hennessy's choreography is extraordinarily
exciting, and Eric Davis' direction is nothing short of brilliant.
(I'm beginning to think that Davis is the best director in the Bay
area.) Frank Chavez's costumes include long flowery dresses, vests
and headbands, and a dozen other badges of hippie couture. The
onstage band couldn't be better.
And the American Stage Hair could hardly be better itself. This is a
show that works on all levels: music and dance, intellect and
emotion, memory and desire. It's astonishingly powerful and probably
unforgettable. Seldom has any show reached so deeply into my psyche.
Productions like this come once a decade.
Get a ticket if you can.
American Stage at Demens Landing, First Ave. S. and Bayshore Blvd.
SE, St. Petersburg, 727-823-PLAY. Runs through May 16, 8 p.m.
Wednesdays-Sundays. $11-$27. Rating: 5 Stars