“Gee, your hair smells terrific,” said no one who has ever experienced a production of "Hair.”
Nor should they. The game-changing tribal rock musical of 1967 should never swirl “slightly spicy, slightly sweet.” “Hair” (the musical) should always be a dirty, messy mane of protest that eschews any shampoo — no matter how colorfully psychedelic the bottle. But hair — musical or not — may need a trim when it strangles your speech and starts to impair your vision.
Like that old ridiculously named shampoo and the lone can of Tab cola still sitting in my refrigerator, certain gathered talismans of our life wax important and nostalgic, defining moments of who we were, what we found important and what we enjoyed. For me, “Hair” was, and still remains, a musical touchstone. I strongly related to its protest and outrage as well as its avant garde approach to theatre and its power to entertain and incite.
But having experienced six productions of “Hair” in the past five years, it would be folly not to acknowledge that time moves forward and styles change. And while some of the core rage and themes of “Hair” still resonate, the march of time and perhaps the arrival of Tame Creme Rinse quelled some of the frizz and fuss.
Fifty years is a long time ago. The shock of “Hair” not just theatrically, but culturally, was truly ground shaking. It caused people to react and some to take action. Almost fifty years later — and I am not sure if this is necessarily a good thing — the “Hair experience” seems somewhat naive and irresponsible. While many of the problems that “Hair” shouts about sadly still exist, the rules and methods of protest have changed. And so has our view (and patience) on how to solve them. Or maybe this is just my age speaking. I’m unsure.
Director Michael Gatzendorfer approaches this production as an artifact of its time, with no apologies or edits on its voice. Not a sterile tribute or nostalgia-seeped effort, this is a raw and raucous evening ranking as one of the most authentic productions I have seen. It is also one of the best vocally I have heard. From the opening moments as Katherine Stephens celestially welcomes us into the Age of Aquarius, Galt MacDermot’s brilliant score is given a thorough and fantastic workout by the whole Tribe.
Nick Muscatiello’s Berger is devilishly manic, leading a frenzy-filled version of the show’s title anthem. William Heatley sparks with “Manchester England,” Jennifer Lefsyk delivers a great “Good Morning Starshine” with the right snap of bubble-gum pop. Laura Tortorici’s free-loving Jeanne is a hoot and Henry L. DiMaria’s Margaret Mead is a comic trip but when the Tribe comes together in one voice — something Gatzendorfer has shepherded well — the evening succeeds and soars. The second act numbers for the Tribe “Walking in Space”, “Three Five Zero” and “The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In” are all outstanding.
The small band under the direction of Casey Ryan Gray keeps the age alive and offers stellar and solid support.
Musically, the show is solid and enjoyable. Bookwise, well, the show is a product of its time. Trapped in the bear pit environmental and expressionistic theater movement, “Hair” is, without question, dated, firmly rooted in 1967. This style of theater can be great — if it is focused. But “Hair” is by nature unruly, wandering aimlessly. And while I would never suggest altering a piece of art, sometimes even free flowing locks benefit from a barrette.
When I was younger, I loved the in-your-face theatricality, rebellion, freedom and community of Hair. Now that I am older — and have lost most of mine — I just miss it. SLOC’s Hair is wonderful snapshot of what once was — beautifully framed.
(And I have no intention of ever opening that can of Tab. It has cyclamates.)