Through Sun 2/25
Fifty years ago Hair shocked audiences with its brash attitudes (and nudity). With song and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot, it portrayed life lived by New York City hippies who urged the virtues of “turning on and tuning out.” It has aged moderately well, but thumbing one’s nose at authority, freely expressing sexuality, resisting is all so commonplace today that even the delightfully anachronistic slogans carried in the current Beck Center production just don’t carry the punch they did. We’re pretty hard to shock these days.
But “Let the Sunshine In” and other now-classic anthems still sound good in the Beck’s let-it-all- hang-out musical co-produced with the Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre Program and directed by Victoria Bussert. The three dozen or so actors in this colorful, whirling show excel in conveying feelings rampant during that era.
Many of the 1960s experiences may have seemed relevant to the long-haired Baldwin Wallace “Tribe” clad in ’60s tie-dye and wearing flowers in their hair. They sang as if they meant every word. But since the plot line is thin (in a nutshell: no one wants to go to Vietnam, everyone asks “Who am I? Who do I love? Can I even love?”), much depends on the music which falls pleasantly on the nostalgic ear. From the opening “Aquarius” (sung by powerhouse performer Veronica Otim as Dionne) to the last melancholy “Eyes, Look Your Last” (with Otim, Olivia Kaufmann, Chandler Smith, and the Tribe), the well-crafted performances evoked a past era.
The first act offers a gratifying musical cabaret with several solo numbers pointing out various life situations. The show turns more somber in the second half because Claude (a perplexed Chandler Smith) refuses to burn his draft card and, instead envisions (thanks to hallucinogens) his fatal destiny in Vietnam. A large disk (picture a giant Lazy Susan) fills center stage and the cast lolls, dances, and stands upon it.
Special mention to the only actors over 30 (I note age because “never trust anyone over 30” served as a mantra back in the day) whose brief appearance as “curious adults” brought welcome laughs. Compelling vocalist Joanne Uniatowski as proper lady Margaret brought the house down with her solo, “My Conviction.” (She later enhanced her performance by tossing out a choice epithet and gesture as she exited the stage. It was likely shocking in the late 1960s, but now it’s more “ho-hum,” alas.) Marc Weagraff (as her nervous hubby) reacted with fine comic flair to the Tribe and Margaret’s declarations.
Since I often gripe about the Beck Center sound system, I’d like to note that it seemed a lot better for this show than it has in the past. My compliments to sound designer Carlton Guc and music director Matthew Webb.
BOTTOM LINE: Lots of young talents show that despite how times and things change, how much they stay the same. It was an enjoyable musical, but Hair’s major impact depends upon seeming outrageous. It all seems a bit tame today.