While other members of the Tribe promptly burn their draft cards to protest the Vietnam War, Claude, left, played by Scott Hamilton, finds himself struggling with the decision while his friend Berger, right, played by Daniel Hayes, chides him for his hesitancy in Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of “Hair.” The show runs through July 20.
Eight O’Clock Theatre has saved something truly special for the final production of its 2013-14 season.
“Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” runs through July 20 at Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive, Largo. Performances are Thursday through Saturday, 8 a.m.; and Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets are $25.50 for adults and $12.50 for students. A city of Largo handling charge of $3.50 will be added to each ticket. This performance contains strong language, adult content and nudity and is recommended for mature audiences. For tickets, call 587-6793 or visit largoarts.com.
“Hair” – the musical that changed all musicals – encapsulates 1960s counterculture, from flower power to the antiwar movement. When it opened on Broadway in 1968, it was a lightning rod for controversy – mainly because of its use of profanity, its attitude toward recreational drug use, its progressive views on sexuality and the nude scene which appears at the end of the first act.
Nearly 50 years later, the hullabaloo over the show’s unconventional content has long-since subsided – but that doesn’t make the decision to stage the musical less daring. In fact, the production is true to the original, without cuts to accommodate easily-offended.
With book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, “Hair” is a landmark in many regards. It featured a racially integrated cast. It repeatedly broke the fourth wall with cast members interacting with the audience. It defined an entire new genre – the rock musical – and blazed a trail for shows such as “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Grease,” “Dreamgirls” and “Rent.”
“Hair” is, of course, not just about hair – long beautiful hair, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen, etc. Set in an East Village park in 1967, “Hair” focuses on a group of hippies rebelling against the establishment, fighting conscription into the Vietnam War and distancing themselves from their parents’ expectations. Berger, the waggish free spirit who serves as the chieftain of the Tribe, leads the group in its bohemian lifestyle. His friend Claude, however, finds the decision to resist the draft more difficult.
The plot is sparse and the material is dated. And yet, this production of “Hair” is so ably staged and so perfectly populated with a fervent, impassioned cast that it proves the granddaddy of all rock musicals can still be just as audacious, just as provocative and just as engaging as ever.
Michael Newton-Brown directs Eight O’Clock Theatre’s “Hair.”
“This gorgeous music helped to change a nation,” Newton-Brown writes in his notes from the director. “Its antiwar message demanded to be heard around the world. The songs are classics.”
Newton-Brown talks about the “building feeling among many people in American” in the 1960s against the status quo.
“ … the Eisenhower conservatism and the outdated value system of the 1950s were no long working,” Newton-Brown explains. “James Rado and Gerome Ragni wanted a rock-and-roll show to spread the excitement of this street movement. They hooked up with Canadian composer Galt MacDermont and ‘Hair’ was born.”
Newton-Brown and his cast manage to capture the urgency and immediacy of the 1960s peace movement. This production is not one of those lamentable nostalgia-inducing retro-jaunts, staged wholly as an homage to a bygone era while excruciatingly trying to conform to the current mores. While there’s nothing particularly preachy about “Hair,” its messages about the environment, war and sex still resonate today.
Scott Hamilton stars as Claude, the troubled young man struggling to balance his pacifist predisposition with a sense of obligatory duty. Hamilton’s performance is vibrant and impeccably nuanced, rendering a compelling portrait of a character waging an internal battle with his life at stake.
Daniel Hayes delivers a swaggering, bombastic Berger. Hayes endears himself to the audience early on in the first act when he drops his pants to reveal a loincloth – and he moons the audience a few numbers later. His singing voice is one of the strongest in the cast and his acting skills are equally superb.
Speaking of marvelous singing voices, the vocally spectacular Sabrina Hamilton opens the show with the evocative anthem “Aquarius” and it is an amazing performance. Hamilton is similarly splendid singing the duet “What a Piece of Work Is Man” with Miguel Corteo
Alex Cheine portrays Woof, a kind of impish cherub with a chronic crush on Mick Jagger. He invigorates numbers such as “Sodomy,” “Ain’t Got No” and “Don’t Put It Down.”
There are plenty of other solid performances from the gifted ensemble, such as Brianna Larson as Jeanie, Erica Goldman as Shelia, Maurqise McGill as Hud and Niashia Aviles as Crissy.
Newton-Brown’s creative direction is complemented perfectly by the imaginative choreography of James Grenelle. Grenelle always manages to add another visual dimension to Eight O’Clock Theatre’s musicals. Here, his choreography is energetic, exciting and – in numbers such as “Walking in Space” – surprisingly sensual.
Tom Hansen’s wonderful set design brings the rockin’ orchestra – led by Philip King – on stage. Those unfamiliar with the show will still recognize some of the music, from the show-opening “Aquarius” and the titular “Hair” to “Easy to Be Hard” and “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In).”
Taken as a period piece, the show is enthralling and expressive. The ensemble cast is so convincing that it seems as if the director may have enlisted true bohemians, possibly plucked from the picnic benches scattered around Largo Central Park just outside the venue’s doors. Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” is more vivid than any flashback, boasting themes as pertinent as ever and music that has remains fresh and entertaining.