Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires


Regional Reviews by Zander Opper

Hair
Playhouse on Park


Kristen Jeter, Ryan Connolly, Tara Novie and Cast
Playhouse on Park is currently transporting audiences back to the late 1960s with its powerful, immersive production of Hair. This musical, by George Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot, has been frequently staged since it opened in 1968. The show has always struck me as a musical with a lot of great songs and a rather thin plot line linking the songs together. The real surprise in Playhouse on Park's current production is how dark it seems. One can truly feel the fear of that era underneath all the bright songs.

Indeed, director Sean Harris has staged a good deal of the numbers in a way that doesn't allow the audience to applaud after each one. Instead, the tapestry of the musical is much more free flowing, with a continuous stream of music and dialogue. And while this approach may lessen the joy that Hair usually conjures up, it has been replaced with a deeper, more serious portrait of the era, making this staging of Hair is definitely worth checking out.

On a super, jungle-gym set designed by DeMara Cabrera, director Sean Harris sends his large, extremely talented cast all over the stage and, sometimes, right into the audience's laps. Indeed, this production is difficult to keep at arm's length, since the company frequently spills out into the aisles of the theatre, and this proximity keeps the audience immersed in the show. Consequently, director Sean Harris and choreographer Darlene Zoller's superb staging continually maintains a certain tension and intensity that is inescapable.

This is not to say, however, that there aren't many moments of joy. Right from opening moments, when the terrific, strong-voiced Kristen Jeter, as Dionne, belts out "Aquarius," one knows that, musically, the show is in very good hands. Other standouts in this terrific company of performers are the actors who play the leading roles of Berger and Claude. As Berger, Ryan Connolly is a real live-wire onstage and helps anchor the production, from his first song all the way until the finale. As Claude, Michael J. Walker gives a well-sung, deeply honest performance, and the fear of being drafted and sent to Vietnam can be deeply felt.

Two popular songs in the show—"Easy to Be Hard" and "Frank Mills"—are splendidly performed by, respectively, the excellent Tara Novie as Sheila and the adorable Lauren Monteleone as Crissy. There isn't room to mention all the actors, but Kevin Barlowski shines as Woof and Jessie MacBeth is a touching Jeanie. An understudy for the character of Hud went on at the performance I attended and that actor, Oludare Bernard, was just wonderful.

Also praise-worthy are both the splendid lighting design by Aaron Hochheiser and the period perfect costumes designed by DeMara Cabrera. The onstage band, led by music directors Emmett Drake and Colin Britt, keeps the theater rocking, and helps turn such songs as "Where Do I Go?" and the roof-raising title song into knockout musical numbers. The choreography by Darlene Zoller is infectious and energetic, and director Sean Harris has staged the entire production masterfully.

It must be mentioned again that Playhouse on Park's production of Hair is really rather on the dark side and even the numbers that allow the audience to applaud carry a great deal more meaning than in other productions I have . Pointedly, the usually upbeat finale "Let the Sun Shine In" is tinged with some sadness, but this is all in keeping with the director's unique vision of the musical. The message seems to be that, yes, there were good times in the era in which Hair takes place, but there was a great deal of uneasiness and fear, as well. I applaud director Sean Harris and his marvelous company for being able to bring out these emotions so powerfully and for giving us a Hair unlike any staging that I have ever seen.

Hair continues performances at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through July 19, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at (860) 523-5900, extension 10.


Photo: Meredith Atkinson

- Zander Opper


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