Hair has become the iconic musical of the 1960s free love, anti-war youth movement. It probably shocked a lot of people at the time, with its frank language and nudity. I got the feeling it is still shocking to some in the audience at a recent performance of the touring production, now at Heinz Hall. Even those who may have lived in or on the fringes of the counter-cultural movement 40-some years ago are most likely far removed from it now, but it doesn't take long for the familiar songs, the cast, and the embracing joy of the show to win everyone over.
This tour is based on the 2009 winner of the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The daunting task was to take representatives of a period of time who started as outsiders, but whose image (in clothes, language and hairstyle) were adapted very quickly by the establishment they railed against, and who became parodied and are now often remembered in an almost cartoonish way. This production presents characters who were created on stage before the popular culture transformation, and makes them still seem real, which can be credited to the the surprisingly enduring book by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, Diane Paulus' incisive direction, and perfectly authentic costumes by Michael McDonald. The actors do their part, though it's the other elements that really save their portrayals from being a lampoon of the hippie era.
Set in the East Village in the 1960s, the very free-style story follows the Tribe, a group of young men and women living and advocating the creed of "make love not war," freedom of expression and acceptance of individuality. Claude (Paris Remillard) and Berger (Nicholas Belton, standing in for Steel Burkhardt) are, if not leaders of the group, the focus of the musical. After the introductory and exuberant "Aquarius" by the company, Berger shows his strong personality and begins to try to draw the audience into the show with "Donna," followed by the cast with "Hashish" and "Sodomy" (a literal list song, of sexual practices). Hair is more up front and in-your-face (literally) than most shows, with nothing held back. Where the language and drug use may have made (or may still make) some turn away, the actors in worn denim, fringed and patchwork garb, approach the well dressed middle (and post) aged audience members and show them the real message, that all can live and love life together. And it still worksthe audience quickly joins in for the ride.
Though the other male characters are shown burning their draft cards, it's not just symbolic for Claude. He is on the precipice of having to make a decision on which way to act on the events thrust upon him by having a low draft number: to risk resisting or do his duty, as his parents have tried to raise him. The results of his decision drive the last part of the show.
Remillard shows the complexity of his character and has a fine voice, highlighted particularly on "I Got Life" and "Where Do I Go." Where Claude is more inwardly focused and thoughtful, Berger is all outward and physical. Belton carefully walks the line between playing a large, confident personality and being a caricature. The cast is truly an ensemble, with most characters being the focus in one of the numerous songs and scenes, and present the songs that reached the pop charts ("Aquarius," "Hari," "Let the Sunshine In") in resounding fashion. Standouts are Darius Nichols as Hud, Caren Lyn Tacket as Sheila and Kacie Sheik as Jeanie. Josh Lamon and Allison Guinn do a great job in their multiple roles.
An enthusiastic "far out" to the excellent band, with a kickass drummer.
Hair continues at Heinz Hall through Febuary 20. For more information on the tour, visit www.hairontour.com.