'Hair' raises right questions
by ROHAN PRESTON, startribune.com
March 4th 2011
This "Hair" is not a letdown.
I went into Diane Paulus' Tony-winning revival of the 1967 tribal rock musical, which opened Tuesday at the Orpheum in Minneapolis, with one overriding question that has nothing to do with the nonsexual and dimly lit nudity this show is famous for.
Would Paulus' staging rescue "Hair" from the realm of high school camp, where it comes off more as affected artifact than effective art?
The answer came early in Paulus' sexy and vibrant production. She has tapped a beautiful cast of singer/actors to embody the young people struggling against convention and conformity. And she has found a way to use the show to tell the story of a whole community, not a collection of individuals.
It is that authenticity, true to its counterculture setting, that helps to make "Hair" speak so clearly today, and to still pack an emotional wallop.
For me, as for many theatergoers, everything pivots on the song "Let the Sun Shine In." The emotional power of this number captures the most moving elements of this musical by composer Galt MacDermot and book and lyrics writers Gerome Ragni and James Rado.
Tinged with both grief and optimism, "Let the Sun Shine In" is delivered as Claude (Paris Remillard), who did not drop out or burn his draft card like so many of his peers, lies in a cone of light, his stiff body set against an American flag. The stage image is powerful and relates very clearly to today, when the bodies of our young men and women serving overseas still arrive at Dover Air Force Base.
The song, which has defiant hope and mourning, is enough to tug some tears.
The music, in general, is well delivered, even if some of the songs are not clearly articulated. "Hair" was a revolution by itself when it premiered, with many numbers, including "Sodomy," I Got Life" and "Going Down," declaring different kinds of freedom.
Paulus has put some songs that were cut from the original production back in the mix. And she has amped up the omnisexual free-love ethos.
The production has a tight, talented band and striking design.
While I've always loved the music and the ideals in previous "Hair" productions, it's sometimes easy to dismiss the cast as lost, confused kids, including showboat Berger (a giddy Steel Burkhardt), Woof (Matt DeAngelis), Dionne (Phyre Hawkins) and pregnant Jeanie (Kacie Sheik).
With this production of "Hair," Paulus doesn't take any short cuts.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390
Original Page: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/onstage/117248333.html
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