Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Inspired by the events of the late 1960s, director Daisy Walker has chosen to recall rather than imitate the cataclysmic year of 1968, when Hair moved to Broadway. I saw the production of Hair at a nightclub called Cheetah a few months before it moved to a larger venue and confess to remembering little of that evening. The BTG experience feels wonderfully new. It is not unrestrained but is filled with many a pulsating moment. The show boasts a nifty blend of rhythm and vibration. Music director Eric Svejcar and choreographer Lisa Shriver catapult the performance into high gear from its first moment.
The initial song, "Aquarius," is a showcase for glowing actress Latoya Edwards, who plays Dionne. She's a gyrating soul with a distinctive, rising voice. In terms of story, a group of anti-war young people in New York City bring in a newcomer named Claude (Andrew Cekala). Claude is drafted. He finds himself amid a group which includes loud, outspoken Berger (Brandon Contreras); Jeanie (Livvy Marcus), who is pregnant; and Crissy (Katie Birenboim), who found someone she loved in Washington Square Parkbut where is he now?
Shayna Blass shines in multiple roles. As Shayna, she is a member of this group called the Tribe. She is also cast as one of Claude's parents. Versatility, for Blass, is a gift. Sheila (Kayla Foster) is girlfriend to Berger.
Hair benefits from book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Galt MacDermot's music includes several tunes which are classic throwbacks to 1968, including "Aquarius," "I Believe in Love," and "Easy to Be Hard." The latter two feature Kayla Foster as Sheila. Midway through the first act, the title tune fully rocks the cozy Unicorn Theatre.
Designer Jason Simms' mostly wooden set is perfectly suitable, allowing the actors to spin, run and dance. At times, they utilize theater aisles and landings. Walker's pace encourages animation and vigor. The ensemble catches and holds the era with a lovely precision.
The second act is complete with drug trips, references to American history, parental/younger generation conflict and, ultimately, celebration. Sheila and ensemble members provide a moving, glorious "Good Morning Starshine." All come together as the galvanic, sometimes electric show concludes with an eager and welcoming "Let The Sun Shine In." The Bohemian style of living is encouraged by the so-called sexual revolution. It is also accompanied by confusion at a time when the Vietnam War is the paramount issue for so many individuals. Personal equilibrium seems impossible to achieve.
This is Hair a half century after it was performed in New York. Some productions of the musical have highlighted the scene with nudity, which occurs just before intermission. Director Walker has chosen another option which is affecting.
The character of Berger is worthy of discussion. He is not especially likable and less than kind to his girlfriend Sheila. He does not come off as terribly sympathetic and is very much concerned about himself. The question of whether director Walker and/or actor Contreras might have softened him or, at the very least, made him less abrasive might be considered. It is true that he might very well be played as written.
The numbers at the beginning of each act are strong, reverberant ones which drive each hour forward with imagination and anticipation. The cast is stirring and their performance of Hair is a warm one, filled with sweet doses of vivacity.
Hair, through August 11th, 2018, at the Unicorn, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as part of Berkshire Theatre Group's 90th season. For tickets, call 413-997-4444 or visit www.berkshiretheatregroup.org.