Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Also see Mark's review of Stomp
With a score by Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, and James Rado and a book by Ragni and Rado, Hair demands a lot of energy, both from the actors and the audience. The excitement evenly builds through song and story until it meets an exciting climax. What separates the average performance from a spectacular one is the amount of interaction between the cast and the audience.
In the Beck Center production directed by Victoria Bussert, the musical seems to have thinned a little from the original concept. Except for a short one-on-one between Berger (Jacob Slater) and two front row audience members, there is no interaction between the cast and those looking on. This is a shame because in the original, and in many productions since, the hippie characters climb into and through the audience to panhandle and flirt. There is also no nudity (unless you count a brief mooning from Berger) in this production, though most of the adult language and themes are still here.
This is not to say it is a bad production. The 32-member cast and six-member orchestra play, dance and sing the hell out of the songs. This group of Baldwin Wallace students lives and breathes theater and nothing is left on the stage when they are done.
The time is 1968 and the Vietnam War is in full swing. The counter-culture hippies are anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-work, pro-drugs, and pro-sex. They dance through life as if it has no hold on them. They live by the mantra of tune in, turn on, drop out with a healthy dose of free love thrown in.
Berger is the focal point of his tribe (since there are no leaders). His friend Claude (Chandler Smith) tries to convince everyone that he is from Manchester, England, but he is actually from New Jersey. Jeanie (Mackenzie Wright) reveals the love entanglements of the tribe. She is pregnant (by some speed freak) but in love with Claude, who is in love with Sheila (Olivia Kaufmann), who is in love with Berger who is in love with everyone including Donna (a sixteen-year-old virgin). Woof (Sam Columbus) is trying to come to terms with possibly being gay while Hud (Warren Franklin) is a black militant. Crissy (Courtney Hausman) is in love with Frank Mills (a boy she only met once for a brief time).
Claude has received his draft notice and is ordered to report for his physical. While a part of him wants to burn his draft card another part wants to make his family proud by being "a good soldier." At the "Be-In," Berger gives Claude a joint laced with LSD and during his trip Claude makes his decision.
One of the prominent features of this staging is the huge video screen at the back of the stage with video art designed by Kasumi. It is in use nearly the entire show with flashing images from the 1950s, '60s, '70s, and even today. It is so effective that at times it overwhelms the action on stage. In an attempt to make the show current, jerky images of Trump rapidly talking are flashed for our amusement. During the protest scene the hippies make signs with phrases like "Dump Trump" (and some not as kind) and references to other current issues concerning women's rights, gay rights, Black Lives Matter, marijuana legalization, and anti-Wall.
Hair was groundbreaking in its time, but this is a more sanitized version that barely resembles the original. It is still worth coming to see for the songs and the great performances.
Hair, through February 25, 2018, at the Beck Center for the Arts, Mackey Theater, 17801 Detroit Rd., Lakewood OH. Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.beckcenter.org or by calling 216-521-2540.