Paris Remillard and Steel Burkhardt with the cast of Hair Photo: Joan Marcus 2010
Once a young radical, the musical Hair
is now well into its middle age. But like many who came of age in the 1960s, there’s still a spirit of love and rebellion that lives on despite any ravages of time. Or at least it felt that way on Thursday when L.A.’s Pantages Theater welcomed the national touring production of Hair
for a just-over-two-week run. The show, which originally surfaced on Broadway in 1968 at The Public Theater, returned to New York as recently as 2009 in a very successful Tony-Award winning production. That show is faithfully recreated now in L.A. and delivers many of the original’s joys and pleasures in a professional and very good looking production. Hair
has never been a work about sophisticated story arcs or clever language. It has only the most meager of outlines of a plot about a young man who struggles with the decision of whether he will dodge the draft or leave his Bohemian group of hippie friends in New York for the U.S. Army and eventually the Vietnam War. Instead, the show has always been about capturing some of the feeling and sentiment of the countercultural moment in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With its frank portrayals of drug use, sexuality, and frequent political content, the show broke new ground in its day and presented a version of life that many in this country were just coming to grips with at the time.
This revival of Hair
catches many of those sentiments, both personal and political, beautifully. And while there is undoubtedly some dated material (one pregnant character excitedly lights and smokes a joint in Act II) this revival is largely a success. What the show lacks in storyline, it makes up for sheer energy and spirit in recapturing a moment in time. The ensemble cast members, who are referred to as the Tribe, spend as much times cavorting amongst the aisles and audience member as they do anywhere else. This is an especially great feat considering the relatively large size of the Pantages, but the excellent cast is on the move and the audience interaction, an integral part of the show, comes off with seeming ease. Even the huge dance party or "Be-In" that concludes the show with audeince members running up on stage to join the cast in an exuberant celebration seemed exciting and rather refreshing in this environment. The opening night's conclusion seemed especially poignant in this respect given that the audience was filled with numerous celebrities who, this being L.A., had made appearances in any of a number of previous incarnations of the show either on a professional stage or in the 1979 film version.
The show has a simple but brightly lit and very colorful set that surprisingly does not grow tiresome over the nearly three hour running time. The music of course has memorable songs that most audience members will recall the words to with ease. It's an equal opportunity show with all of the ensemble cast getting their moment to shine. I was particularly taken with Kaitlin Kiyan's rendition of "Frank Mills," perhaps one of the most lyrically beautiful and understated moments in score. Caren Lyn Tackett's performance of "Easy to Be Hard" was also memorable. Still the show is at its most powerful in its biggest ensemble numbers, and the opening "Aquarius" and the closing "Let the Sunshine In" provided superb bookends to the evening. "Let the Sunshine In" is one of those songs that is familiar to many, but its context in the show, and its nagging darker undertone, shouldn't be forgotten. This revival of Hair,
now in L.A. through the 23rd of January, restores the song to its rightful condition - a beautiful and joyous, but simultaneously sad and tragic anthem of one of the most turbulent times in American history.
Labels: LA Theater Reviews