Regional Reviews: Phoenix
There isn't a lot of plot in the show, which is mainly a series of musical vignettes with songs that introduce and slightly flesh out the characters. Set in New York City, Hair focuses on a tribe of hippies and the journey of one of the tribe's members, a young man Claude. There is only a minimal amount of dialogue, with just enough narrative to give us information on the connections among the three main characters as well as some details about a few of the additional members of the tribe. Claude is caught up between the pull of his uptight parents, who want to send him off to the army as they think it will make a man out of him, and the three-way relationship he shares with the crazy, radical Berger, the leader of the tribe, and the highly political Sheila. Torn between his allegiance and love for his friends versus doing what his parents want, Claude makes a decision that ultimately sets his future in motion.
While the book by Gerome Ragni and James Rado may be spare, the songs of Hair are stellar. Galt MacDermot's music and Ragni and Rado's lyrics expertly portray the sound, feelings and anger, as well as the joy, of the youth of the late 1960s with songs that became classic hits, including "Aquarius" and the title number.
Director and choreographer Kurtis Overby has assembled a gifted cast that immediately get across the playful, peace-loving spirit of this extended group of friends. His dance moves are varied yet also synchronized which gives a sense of polish to the entire production. The cast often come out into the audience, in a playful and never truly intrusive way, which helps pull the audience into the show as if we were all extended members of the tribe. The show was famous for the nude scene that ends the first act and ABT hasn't cut or downplay that moment, though it is delivered discreetly and actually comes across as freeing and cathartic and not at all salacious, which was the original intent.
Josh D. Smith's music direction delivers some excellent vocals from the group as well as an appropriate rock sound from the orchestra. Aaron Sheckler's excellent set design resembles a large room stuffed with pieces of period furniture and items of various shapes and sizes where the tribe members often meet and sleep, and occasionally experiment with drugs and sex. Bret Reese's lighting is exceptional, with varied shades of color that continually change and even wash over the audience at many times throughout the show. Morgan Anderson's costumes and Amanda Gran's wigs and makeup do an excellent job of getting across the colors, styles and designs of the period. The combination of Overby's spirited direction and the superb creative elements creates many stunning and beautiful stage images.
There isn't a weak link in the ABT cast. Ryan Michael Crimmins does well in portraying Claude's conflicted feelings as well as his sensitivity, while Adrian Rifat is rambunctious and full of life as the crazy Berger. Katie Hart is excellent in displaying both Sheila's seemingly unlimited amount of passion as well as the pain she occasionally encounters when she isn't treated as well as she should be. All three have strong, clear voices that serve their many songs well, with Crimmins' "Where Do I Go?" and Hart's "Easy to be Hard" emotional highlights of the show, while Rifat and Crimmins' duet of "Hair" and Hart's "Good Morning Starshine" are spirited and fun.
In the ensemble, Trisha Ditsworth, Lynzee 4Man, and Dayna Richardson provide lively contributions in their solos of "Frank Mills," "Air," and "Aquarius." R.J. Magee is a hoot in drag and delivers a sweet and thoughtful "My Conviction," and Joseph DePietro is fun as the free-spirited Woof. Claxton Rabb III's "Colored Spade" is forceful and direct.
Full of meaningful performances and creatively staged and choreographed numbers, ABT's Hair is an exuberant, celebratory and passionate production. Sure, the book may be slight and somewhat confusing, but the glorious tunes sung by an impressive cast easily help to offset some of the shortcomings of the plot. While the show may not be as shocking today as it was when it first opened on Broadway, exactly fifty years ago, perhaps what is still shocking is that the youth of America is still protesting and that, as much as things have changed, many of the issues that the characters in Hair are fighting for are still being fought today.
Hair, through March 25th, 2018, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.
Music by Galt MacDermot