Also see Bill's review of Somewhere
Hair was transformative in musical theatre for a number of reasons. A professed "rock musical," it led the way for a number of similar efforts that followed (and continuing, with members of groups such as U2 and the Scissor Sisters writing scores for major musicals). It was also one of the last Broadway musicals to land songs from its score on Top 40 radio (and, it landed a bunch of them: "Aquarius," "Easy To Be Hard, "Good Morning Starshine, and "Let the Sunshine In," in addition to the title tune). And it portrayed an alternative youth culture positively at a time when that culture was controversial.
Despite all of these creditable qualities, Hair is far from a perfect musical. It is structured more as a vaudeville performance (with different cast members taking turns performing numbers that don't really advance the plot) than as a play, though the narrative element becomes stronger in the second act (everything is stronger in the second act, actually). It has quite a few songs that don't land particularly well, causing the pace to drag. And it isn't really a rock musical: there are several country tunes in the show, and more than one "rock number" is heavily influenced by traditional musical theatre riffs.
Director Diane Paulus tries to get you to ignore the flaws and "go with the flow," and mostly she succeeds. She puts the band onstage (the tour players look the part, and the locally hired players are placed up high so it isn't so obvious when they don't), which energizes the cast. What appears to be a kind of wandering hang-out for the cast easily becomes disciplined dance moves (credit choreographer Karole Armitage). To keep the audience energized, the cast is out in the house a lot, enters and exits through the audience; front-of-the-house patrons may find themselves is the action. Rock concert lighting (for the musical numbers) by Kevin Adams energizes as well, and the Acme Sound Partners' design makes for the clearest and best mixed audio I've heard in the Civic for a while.
The cast, mostly young performers with minimal Broadway credits, hangs in with the concept and does competent work when featured. Exceeding those expectations are Paris Remillard as Claude, Caryn Lynn Tackett as Sheila, and Phyre Hawkins as Dionne. Mr. Remillard has to do the heavy lifting for the plot, and he is more than up to the challenge. He plays Claude's conflicted soul beautifully and sings his numbers with angelic ease. Ms. Tackett shines particularly in Sheila's key numbers ("Easy To Be Hard, and "Good Morning Starshine ) and makes credible Sheila's role as the political activist of the group. Ms. Hawkins contributes some terrific singing in "Aquarius" and "White Boys," and she leads the cathartic "Let the Sunshine In" that ends the show.
Steel Burkhardt plays tribal leader Berger a bit like a frat clown who is always aimed at his next goof. None of Mr. Burkhardt's relationships look particularly genuine, and one wonders what the tribe sees in him, other than comic relief.
Hair was designed to annoy defenders of "straight" society, and there were points where I wondered whether the Broadway San Diego audience, which tends to be a bit on the conservative side, would react negatively to what was on stage. There were a couple of occasions where audience members expressed what might have been heard as dissent, but these were more than compensated for by expressions of approval. And, in the end, it didn't matter much: Hair is after all a Broadway tour, and the real thing was right outside the door.
Through October 23 at the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego. Tickets ($17.50 - $85.50) are available by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787 or by visiting Ticketmaster.com. For more information on the tour, visit hairontour.com.
Broadway San Diego presents Hair, The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot. Directed by Diane Paulus with choreography by Karole Armitage. The creative team includes Scott Pask (scenic design), Michael McDonald (costume design), Kevin Adams (lighting design), Acme Sound Partners (sound design), Galt MacDermot (orchestrations), Nadia DiGiallonardo (music supervisor), David Truskinoff (music director), Seymour Red Press (music coordinator), Gerard Kelly (wig design), Nancy Harrington (production supervisor), and William Joseph Barnes (production stage manager).
The cast includes Steel Burkhardt, Matt DeAngelis, Phyre Hawkins, Kaitlin Kiyan, Darius Nichols, Aleque Reid, Paris Remillard, Caren Lyn Tackett, and as tribe members Shaleah Adkisson, Emily Afton, Nicholas Belton, Larking Bogan, Corey Bradley, Marshal Kennedy Carolan, Laura Dreyfuss, Mike Evariste, Lulu Fall, Tripp Fountain, Nkrumah Gatling, Allison Gunn, Sara King, Max Kumangai, Josh Lamon, Anne Markt, John Moauro, Christine Nolan, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Tanesha Ross, Jen Sese, and Lee Zarrett.
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