Who would ever think that the landmark rock musical smash Hair could be described as quaint or old-fashioned? But that is exactly what hits you watching the 5th Avenue Theatre's exemplary production of the 1968 Broadway smash. Gerome Ragni and James Rado's paper thin book was nothing more than a hook on which to hang their superior lyrics and the exuberant, pop-friendly musical score by Galt MacDermot. Expanded by director Tom O'Horgan from a more modest off-broadway version, Hair grew into a big, loud, outlandishly hallucinatory riff on such hot topics as hippies, drugs, free love, and alternative lifestyles, set against the backdrop of the war in Vietnam. And then there was that famed nude scene, a longer and more explicit act one ending glimpse of genitalia, male and female, than is seen at the end of the current Broadway smash The Full Monty.
All of these elements are present in David Armstrong's respectful, highly energized and smashing-to-look-at production at the 5th, but just don't go looking for any shock value. How could there be any in an era when drug use is far worse than was imaginable then, and when we are in the midst of another war that hit us in our homeland? As for the nudity, just turn on Queer as Folk on Showtime any Sunday in primetime and it's right there in close-up, coming into your living room. The times, they have a-changed.
This is the long way of getting to the point that, incredibly muddy sound system aside, I really enjoyed Hair immensely. Armstrong has largely used a rather awesome assemblage of Seattle-based talent to people the show. Cheyenne Jackson, as the charismatic hippie Berger, is given the best opportunity he's had to shine in a local appearance and shine he does, exhibiting a rich comic flair as potent as his powerful pipes. Lisa Estridge-Gray as soul sister Dionne kicks off the show in high gear leading "Aquarius", then really socks "Walking In Space" across the footlights, and neatly fills the Diana Ross slot in the sublime Supremes spoofery of "White Boys," a number that threatens to be stolen by the sassy and vocally smashing Charlene Parker. The heart and soul of the production, however, is Louis Hobson as the headed for hell Claude Hooper Bukowski. Hobson's acting covers the full spectrum from goofy to grief-stricken, and he runs a similar musical gamut from the frolicsome "Manchester, England" to the searing "Where Do I Go?" Star presence is what Hobson has, and Seattle had better keep him busy as long as it can, before Broadway beckons.
Further cheers are assuredly due to Rodney Hicks as Hud with a smashing vocal on "Colored Spade," Ben Schrader's sweetly fey Woof who sings the praises of "Sodomy," Kathleen Young's warmly appealing warbling of one of the show's loveliest tunes, "Frank Mills," Precious Butiu's unaffectedly dippy Crissy, and fine efforts as well from such other "Tribe" members as David Austin, Garrett Brown (hilarious in a drag turn as "Margaret Mead") and Paris Remillard and Timothy Glynn's haunting vocals on "What A Piece of Work Is Man?" Nancy Colton sings the role of Sheila in a strong yet rather strident style that undercuts the sympathy the character might elicit on her major dramatic solo "Easy To Be Hard".
That this Hair looks simply marvy can be attributed to Bradley Reed's authentic looking costumes, which occasionally wink at the period in a delicious way (a three-way outfit for the "White Boys" trio, for instance), hallucinatory lighting by Tom Sturge, and way out wigs by Mary Pyanowski. Musical director R.J. Tancioco heads up a lively onstage band, though sadly sabotaged by sound issues that are the production's only real detriment.
Bravo to director/choreographer David Armstrong for letting the sunshine back in on this now neglected hit musical from the sixties. It may be as quaint and hard to relate to now as No, No, Nanette, but it lacks nothing as sheer entertainment.
Hair runs at 5th Avenue Theatre through April 21. For more information visit www.5thavenuetheatre.org