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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Hair Stays True to its Roots in Breezy Staging at Arts West
Arts West Playhouse

Also see David's review of The Grimaldis: A Musical Ghost Story


Stacie Pinkney Calkins
Rapidly approaching its 50th anniversary, the Tribal Love Rock Musical Hair (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot) isn't the anti-establishment shocker it was in the mid '60s. But Arts West's current production, directed in a breezy, lighthearted style by David Gassner, happily harkens back to the simpler, bare bones qualities of the original 1967 Off-Broadway version, before it was expanded and added an infamous nude scene to rock Broadway audiences. This Hair, played by an engaging and vocally ideal young cast, comes across more like a production of Godspell and does indeed celebrate love, as well as youthful rebellion and missteps, but it never shocks (and what nudity there is seems forced on the proceedings, because it is "expected").

The threadbare plot follows the New York City flower-child tribe that takes in Claude Hooper Bukowski, an innocent on his way to being drafted into service in Vietnam. Claude expands his horizons sexually and pharmaceutically with Tribe leader Berger, and his disciples Sheila, Hud, Jeanie, Woof and others. Claude trips out, drops out, strips down, but never manages to actually burn his draft card or, ultimately, shrug his call to duty. This was the first musical to show the world anything that resembled what the teens in, New York, San Francisco, and so many other big U.S. cities were thinking and feeling. And it mostly did it through a musical score that was the last Broadway score ever to sport so many chart-topping hits. "Aquarius," "Frank Mills," Good Morning Starshine," "Easy to Be Hard " and "Let the Sun Shine In" became anthems to the youth of America. This production also contains songs I don't remember hearing before; some may have disappeared from the score after its Off-Broadway run. Ragni, Rado and McDermott wrote again for Broadway but never again had a hit of any real magnitude.

Stacie Pinkie Calkins gives the power and glory in her "Aquarius" to start off the show on a psychedelic high. Tyler Miller is an engagingly open, initially blank page Claude who becomes freer and worldlier in the course of the action, and he scores in every musical moment from "Manchester, England" on. Jeff Orton is a sexy, impetuous, and bigger than life Berger, and rouses the show with "Donna" and shines on his duet with Miller to the title song. Sara Porkalob is earthy, warm and packs a vocal wallop when she sings "Easy to Be Hard," then leads a joyful "Good Morning Starshine." Amanda Louise Carpp makes the sweet, pregnant earth-angel that is Jeanie the most dead-on portrayal of a wispy hippie chick on the stage and tickles with the anti-pollution ode "Air." Ryan Floresca brings the appropriate transgender air to his role as Woof and sashays his way through the once shocking number "Sodomy." The entire ensemble sounds great throughout and they tackle Mary Angelo's infectiously energetic choreography with panache.

Musical Directors Mathew Wright and Zachary Orts bring out the vocalists strengths, and make a small band sound large and powerful. Burton Yuen's Set (which starts with a fake-out look that suggests we've wandered into The Fantasticks) is colorful and ingeniously crafted, and K.D. Shill's costumes are the real '60s threads, man!

Hair runs through June 7, 2014, at Arts West Playhouse, 4711 California Ave SW. For tickets go to www.artswest.org.
Photo: Michael Brunk



- David Edward Hughes



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