HAIR feels like a fitting show to open after the extended theatre shut down; it’s full of hope, rage, protests, and the desire to make change happen. The Old Globe brings back this musical with an incredibly talented cast who have outstanding vocals, and direction that shows how relevant the show’s themes still are today. HAIR is playing at The Old Globe through October 3rd.
Presented in the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre stage, HAIR opened with a full house and a roar of applause when the show started. The cast seemed just as enthusiastic and ready to perform, with vocals that would have blown the roof off, if it had a roof. I guess 18 months of vocal rest will do that to you.
If you haven’t seen the show then you’ve probably heard of it, but if you haven’t the loose plot follows a group of high school and early college-aged Americans in 1968. From experimenting with drugs, free love, even astral projection – they want to change the world and anything is possible.
Claude (Tyler Hardwick) is a young man who is struggling with what he wants to do in his life. He is in love with a young NYC student named Sheila (Storm Lever) who is an activist, and actually puts into motion the ideals the group sits around and talks about. Sheila is in love with Berger (Andrew Polec), a senior who just got kicked out of his high school and is the de facto leader of this group of acid-dropping dropouts.
The group has many characters including but not limited to the mystical Dionne (Nyla Sostre), pregnant Jeanie (Jaygee Macapugay) who carries a torch for Claude, the militant Hud (Alex Joseph Grayson), and Woof (Angel Lozada) whose sexuality is fluid, but especially so when it comes to Mick Jagger.
Claude is the son of traditional and uptight parents who want him to join the real world. His form of rebellion, besides being a part of the free-loving, drug-using tribe, is dreaming that he’s from Manchester England, accent and all. When his draft card gets called, he goes to burn it with others who are burning their cards – a subversive and illegal act that I’m not sure has a current equivalent. Claude knows, either way, his decision will change the course of his life forever.
The show may not be heavy on plot, but it certainly has a powerful amount of music. From the iconic “Aquarius” that opens the show and is phenomenally sung by Sostre, to “Let the Sunshine In” that closes the show, the songs are a mix of musical styles. The songs are never short on witty, moving, or profound lyrics that may shock to make their point. Grayson brings a fierce intensity to his songs, including “Colored Spade”, Macapugay makes a funny environmentalism point in “Air” as a pregnant hippie who worries for her babies safety and then later smokes a joint, and sweet Crissy (Bailey Day Sonner) longs for a Hells Angel in “Frank Mills.”
Lever as Sheila is impressive with “Easy To Be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine.” Polec’s Berger is an entertaining chaos agent who keeps the tribes and the energy of the show up with his antics and has solid vocals. Hardwick is excellent as the vulnerable and conflicted Claude with multiple stand-out numbers but most notably in “I Got Life” and “Where Do I Go?”.
Directed by James Vásquez, the tribe is very diverse, has a strong sense of community, and shows the many similar parallels between the issues at the time the show premiered and now. He keeps the nostalgia tempered because as a period piece it could easily be consumed by that. Smart choices are made to turn songs and look at them from a different angle, like “Don’t Put it Down (Crazy for the Red, Blue, and White)” sung only by the people of color and their pride in their heritage cultures.
Choreography by Mayte Natalio is creative, energetic, and uses multiple levels of the stage and the aisles of the audience. Costumes by David Israel Reynoso are colorful and feel authentic to the time. The band led by Angela Steiner is excellent and brings the “rock n roll” to this rock n roll musical.
Before anyone wonders, the famous nude scene that closes Act One is still there, but pushed toward the back and very dimly lit. Lighting aside, Hardwick is also standing center stage with a killer song, so that may also draw your attention from what’s going on behind him.
HAIR was a revolutionary act when it premiered, and while it is full of nostalgia now, it also shows just how far we’ve come and how much work we still have left to do. As the climate continues to overheat, Afghanistan fell in a similar way to Saigon on the night of the show’s opening, the ongoing fight for equal rights, and more, the many themes of the show are all still as important now.
The Age of Aquarius is supposedly a time that is associated with humanitarianism, freedom, democracy, non-conformity, truth, and beauty. Sounds pretty good, so it makes sense why the tribe then and now are looking for it.
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