Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The musical Hair, which came out of the counterculture itself, got it right. Hair opened Off-Broadway in October 1967 and moved to Broadway in April of 1968, right at the height of the counterculture. The musical captured the inner-workings of that movement with accuracy and affection. The movie that showed up in 1979 completely botched the depiction of counterculture kids, making them look trivial and stupid.
Hair was created by James Rado and Gerome Ragni (book and lyrics), two actors who had been working together on various theater projects since 1964. They later brought in Galt MacDermot for the music. Rado and Ragni based the story on their own lives, while adding the stories of a bunch of kids in the East Village of New York City. While the kids in the story are youngmostly in their late teensthey are facing serious social issues: the draft for a war they believe is corrupt, corporate power that turned all culture into product; and institutionalized racism.
Their dream of a future that might overcome these insidious problems involved open speech, sexual freedom, communal love and affection (however spotty), the use of mind-expanding drugs, and organized political resistance. While the characters may seem hapless and often pettythe musical well captures their aspirations and foiblesthese kids did manage to change the world. The musical captures the counterculture life, revealing the rolling crisis of fear, ecstasy and pain these kids lived in the hippie ghettos across American in 1967 and 1968.
Under the direction of Jonathan Dunski, Musical Theatre Southwest does a wonderful job with Hair. The young actors seem to naturally understand what life was like 50 years ago. In a conversation after the play, Dunski noted that these young people are experiencing a lot of the tensions faced in 1968, particularly an America with harsh political divisions.
The production is a swirl of dancing and singing. The actors spill into the audience and bring many audience members out onto the in-the-round stage floor to dance. (I sat in the front row and ended up on the stage floor dancing with the actors twice. My seat was one of many that had a placard warning this might happen.)
I saw the touring show in 1972, which was presented on a concert stage to an audience of about 3,000. It was fine, but it was distant. The intimacy of this black box theatre with the audience surrounding the actors on the same level as the action offers a much more exciting experience. These actors truly capture the spirit of the '60s.
While many of the songs in Hair were more commercial than the classic '60s musicfive were top-ten hits by groups such as The Fifth Dimension and Three Dog Nightmany were political, even edgy, listing the complaints and crazy assertions of the day. Musical Theatre Southwest delivers these songs in all their rough glory, supported by a group of nine live musicians directed by Travis Rourk. The production team has done a wonderful job, including Mark Ferris with lighting design, Shannon Scheffler with costumes, and Luz Guillen with choreography, among many others.
While I usually try to call out actors whose talent and execution stand apart, this production offers a uniformly strong ensemble. The actors are all terrific in their singing, dancing, and dramatic performance. This is an excellent production in a year when Musical Theatre Southwest is outdoing itself with strong shows.
Hair, through November 25, 2018, at Musical Theatre Southwest, 6320 Domingo Rd. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. Admission for seniors, students, and ATG members is $20. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at musicaltheatresw.com.