Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The show is mainly a series of short scenes and musical vignettes with songs that introduce us to the "Tribe," a group of hippies who reside in New York City. The slight plot focuses on one of the Tribe's members, Claude, and whether or not he will burn his draft card or enlist. Claude is caught between the desire of his 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 Berger and the highly political Sheila. That's pretty much the entire plot, which, while it does also introduce us to several other characters and gives them each a song or moment so we know more about them, doesn't do much more.
Fortunately, where this show truly shines is in the songs, which are superb. Galt MacDermot's music and Gerome Ragni and James Rado's lyrics expertly portray the sounds, feelings and anger, as well as the joy, of the youth of the late 1960s. While Ragni and Rado's book is slight with a minimal amount of dialogue, there is just enough narrative to give us information on the connections between a few of the Tribe members. While there are several fun-loving songs and comical scenes, the ending can be very emotional.
Director Chanel Bragg appeared in Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of Hair a few years back, and her Spotlight cast and staging work well to exhibit the upbeat, peaceful, and drugged out nature of the Tribe members as well as the pain and passion they display toward each other and what they are protesting against. The final few moments could be staged a little more clearly, with a few more seconds on the final stage image before the lights go out having even more of an impact. Bragg has made the decision to cast the usually male character of Berger as a woman, and it works, for the most part, especially since the "free love" nature of the '60s would mean that there were women in love with other women, so having Berger and Sheila as a female couple isn't a shock at all. A few lines in the script don't quite work with this concept, and some slight changes have been made to which songs Berger sings (since he isn't a man, for example, he doesn't sing "Hair").
The cast exhibit passion and determination in their portrayals. Patrick Mullen is appropriately conflicted as Claude. As Berger, Chloe Pierson is rambunctious and crazy. Emma Gass beautifully depicts the hurt feelings Sheila has when Berger treats her wrong. As the somewhat dim-witted Woof, Braiden Lee is full of life. Mullen, Pierson, Gass and Lee all have great stage presence and fairly good singing voices. Gass' "Easy to Be Hard" is a major highlight of the show.
In the ensemble, Zoey Waller delivers a winning solo of "Frank Mills," and Ryan Parker does a good job with "Aquarius." Isabella Menzel is an absolute knock-out as Margaret Mead, the woman who wanders into the Tribe's domain and ends up befriending them in hilarious fashion. Menzel also delivers a sweet version of "My Conviction." Also, Jaely Damasco does good work as the very pregnant Jeanie.
Choreographer Carly Grossman has created a number of sensational and always varied steps which are well danced by the cast and make good use of the entire Spotlight stage. Musical director Adam Bei delivers rich notes from the small onstage band and the large ensemble. Mary Rooney's set combines with Josh Hontz' effective lighting and projections that use archival photos and video images to make always-changing and effective stage images. Heather Riddle's costumes and the hair and make-up designs by Angel DeMichael work well to create the styles and designs of the 1960s.
If you're a fan of musicals with in-depth plots and richly detailed characters, the slim-plotted Hair will most likely have you scratching your head. However, if you enjoy musicals that are passionate with a number of upbeat tunes, then you'll most likely enjoy this nearly 55-year-old musical that is still relevant today.
Hair runs through January 30, 2022, at Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N 43rd Avenue, Glendale AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.spotlightyouththeatre.org or call 602-843-8318
Director: Chanel Bragg