Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Amanda Lee, Jordan Dobson, and Cast
Photo by Daniel Radar
Hair has a unique place in Broadway musical history, specifically for the audiences who discovered it in their own youth. While the rock-powered story of New York City hippies in the flower power era premiered almost 60(!) years ago, the production now in the MAX Theatre at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, brings it to fresh life with a powerful cast, propulsive staging by director Matthew Gardiner, and a bit of historical perspective.

The audience enters as "educational" films from the early 1960s appear on a screen covering the front of the stage. The messages are about conformity, civic responsibility, and–most centrally–why young American men should be proud and eager to serve in the armed forces. In other words, all the things the musical's "tribe" of hippies are rebelling against.

To understand how groundbreaking Hair was in its time, the original release of the Broadway cast album in 1968 stated that the songs by bookwriters and lyricists Gerome Ragni and James Rado and composer Galt MacDermot were recorded exactly as they were sung onstage. Some of the lyrics were profane, insulting to certain groups, sexually explicit–not the world of, say, My Fair Lady or Fiddler on the Roof. For that reason, this was a show that introduced a lot of younger listeners to musical theatre.

What Gardiner and choreographer Ashleigh King have done in this production is lay out the action (which was always more a series of moments than a scripted story) in a way that uses the past to examine the present and future. The challenges may be different, but the determination to work together and prevail is always timely.

The plot, such as it is, follows Claude (Jordan Dobson) as he debates whether or not to respond to his draft notice. During a visit to New York City, he's taken in hand by an impassioned group of hippies led by excitable Berger (Mason Reeves) and protester Sheila (Olivia Puckett). The ethnically diverse cast displays a range of vocal and dance talents in a wide range of styles including pop and rock, Indian raga ("Hare Krishna"), declamatory ("I Got Life"), the occasional story song ("Frank Mills," sung by Caroline Graham), and even a touch of vaudeville here and there.

Scenic designer Paige Hathaway has devised a set that contains almost too many parts for a viewer to notice them all, from old television sets and decorative knickknacks to signs, artworks, and abstract forms that catch the eye; Jason Lyons' lighting design incorporates streaks of neon that pulse across the stage. Kathleen Geldard's costumes capture (and, perhaps, slightly exaggerate) the varied looks of the time, from miniskirts to dashikis and bell-bottoms.

Music director Angie Benson provides substantial support from above and behind the set, conducting eight musicians whose sound suggests a much larger ensemble.

Hair runs through July 7, 2024, at Signature Theatre, MAX Theater, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or visit

Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
Choreographed by Ashleigh King
Music direction by Angie Benson

Cast: Claude: Jordan Dobson
Dionne: Amanda Lee
Berger: Mason Reeves
Woof: Noah Israel
Hud: Solomon Parker III
Sheila: Olivia Puckett
Jeanie: Nora Palka
Crissy: Caroline Graham
Suzannah/Mother: Jamie Goodson
Steve/Father: Keenan McCarter
Jonathan/Margaret Mead: Nolan Montgomery
Paul/Hubert: Greg Twomey
Lorrie: Savannah Blackwell
Walter: Patrick Leonardo Casimir
Emmaretta: Alex De Bard