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A Blast from the past: “Hair” sprays on stage

This Fall’s production of “Hair” was well-directed, well-acted, and well-choreographed.
However, the production was plagued with audio issues during the entire performance, but as a
spectacle, the entire show was a psychedelic trip back to a crack in time. The question is, though,
does its message ring as true today as it did 50 years ago?
As a musical, “Hair” is incredibly political with the original production as a
contemporaneous look at the counter-culture that sprang up in opposition to the stoicism that the
previous generation gained as a result of The Great Depression and World War II.
Suddenly sex, drugs, and rock-and- roll became the bedrock of pop culture, institutional
racism was challenged and civil protest cemented itself as the fundamental form of free speech.
Nowhere was this dichotomy clearer than the long-hair versus short-hair relationship.
Long hair became the symbol of everything hippie culture believed in. It was naturalistic,
spiritual and rebellious all at once.
But today those rebels are the old guard. They’ve wrested control of the country from
their predecessors and have become our lawmakers, our teachers and our parents and
grandparents. They have become “The Man” they once railed against.
The revival of “Hair” changes the rock musical into a period piece. For three hours
audiences are transported back in time, but some relevance is lost in the trip.
Our warmongering has been tempered after seeing the televised horrors of Vietnam, and
the Selective Service Act has become more of a formality; a carryover from a draconian age.
However, the revival may be a factor that ensures that America doesn’t slip back into its zeal for
large-scale war.
Last Friday’s production had the message of the original, but it was drowned out by the
accompanying instruments. Throughout the night, the lyrics of the songs were muddled behind
the catchy, yet loud band. This led to confusion about the plot and a hinderance to the musical’s
immersion.
But the play’s cast did a wonderful job, given how short a time they were given to
rehearse. Particularly the actors playing Claude and Berger. Shane O’Leary, who played Berger,
struck the right balance between pompous and down-to- earth. While Claude, played by Connor
McCully, managed to convey the character’s divided psyche without delving into fecklessness.
Another surprise was the performance of Madison Wilson as Crissy. She performed her number
“Frank Mills” with such wide-eyed hopefulness that the audience immediately empathized with
her.
The performances during the larger numbers was phenomenal. The eponymous song
“Hair” made excellent use of Lipkin Theater’s seating; transforming the theater-in- the-round into
a pit of gyrating hippies. And the cast’s performance of “The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine
In)” captured both the mournfulness of a funeral dirge with the hopefulness of an anthem.
However, the production may have leaned too heavily on its anti-war themes. With the
finale coming in the form of Claude’s casket being brought out on stage and a sudden flash-
forward to Jeanie and her son viewing the Vietnam War Memorial. By doing so, the emotional
impact of Claude’s death is heightened, but with the sacrifice of his relevance as a messianic
figure ushering in a potential age of peace with his death. It makes Claude seem like just one of
the thousands of Americans killed overseas, and diminishes the play’s themes of individuality.
Overall, the spectacle of the show remained intact, but the same cannot be said for the
political messages. The world has changed quite a bit in the last half century, and the horrors of
the quagmire that was Vietnam are no longer transcribed only the memories of those who lived
it, but in the pages of history. That is where “Hair’s” true place is, not as the militant anti-war
play of the late ‘60s. Instead, its place is as a hopeful message for the future. A message to
simply love and be free.