Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hair!"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark


Music by Galt MacDermot
Book & Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado
Directed by William Doscher
Musical Direction by David Robbins
Choreography by Laurie Fisher

Scenery Design by John MacKenzie
Scenic Artist Michele Boll
Costume Design by Richard Itzack
Lighting Design by John MacKenzie
Sound Design by Alex Savitsky
Properties by Richard Danchy
Dance Captains Kerrin Rhuda/Erin Washington
Puppets by Mark Pellitier
Assistant Stage Manager Vickey Taylor
Stage Manager Chris Teague

Berger..........................John Bishoff
Woof..............................Rishi Basu
Hud........................Sean London Young
Claude......................Matthew Torrance
Jeanie..........................Kara Moulter
Crissy..........................Kerrin Rhuda
Sheila..................Amy Catherine Strong
Margaret Mead..................Harry Rothman

Erin Beaber, Ryan Garvin, Ianthe Marini, Mike Mosey, Anne Olmstead, Susan Rubin, Erin Washington, David Lucey, Thomas Koen, Ela Quezada

Piano..............David Robbins
Bass............Douglas G. Weeks
Drums................Joe Hedrick
Guitar.................Joe Halko
Conductor..........David Robbins

My first reaction, in the act-break of "Hair!" at The Turtle Lane Playhouse was "This looks lovely (Thank you Bill Doscher, John MacKenzie, Richard Itzack) moves beautifully(Thank you Laura Fisher) it sounds great (Thank you David Robbins) --- but the piano is so damn loud I can't understand Rado & Ragni's lyrics! How the hell am I supposed to understand the plot?" But someone I was fuming at pointed out "There ISN'T any plot, Larry!" and I calmed down enough to spend the second act grooving on Galt MacDermot's lyrically, rhythmically magnificent score, loving the movement and the pretty pictures, and feeling slightly stoned. [*** SEE NOTE BELOW]

Of course, there is a plot of sorts --- or at least a conflict. When it started --- downtown in 1967, then again on Broadway in 1968 --- it was a conflict of the young against everyone over thirty. Now --- and it's revived a lot; there's a production starting up in Woonsocket Rhode Island as I write --- it's much more a fond memory of everything we called "The Summer of Love" with most of its sharp edges sandpapered away. On the Turtle Lane stage, with MacDermot's pounding score underlining everyone's work, it is indeed a lovely poem, without a plot.

So, what I'd like to do, is give you some notes about the show's remaining conflicts.
And you can make your own damn plot as the spirit moves you

It's totally gone now, but the original situation of "Hair!" was of a rock-band rehearsing and living in an abandoned garage, they and their friends and groupies panhandling and shocking the locals with their uncut hair, their unbathed bodies, their unwed sexuality and just their screw-you attitudes. The group has invited the neighbors in for a concert, bent on showing that they're human and their uppity actions come out of serious convictions and questions about the status quo. But of course, they can't resist breaking, now and again, into exaggerated riffs pretending to be the irresponsible dead-heads the neighbors think they are. So honesty and self-parody chase each other across the stage.

Under it all is youth's insistence on finding their own new way, and their conviction that drugs have opened their awarenesses inward toward Eastern religions --- while tickling their funnybones at the absurdity of it all. Dylan described their attitude: "There's somethin' goin' on here but you don't know what it is; Do You, Mister Jones?"

So Claude --- the unsettled searcher of the original story-line --- can sing "I believe in God/ and I believe that God/ believes in Claude/ (that's me)!" even when he is unsure of himself. He's the one who only pretends to burn his draft-card (it's his library card), neglects the opportunity to split for Canada, and ends with his name on the Vietnam Monument.

Of course, living their truths isn't always easy. When one of the girls gives a pretty shirt of his favorite color to the guy she's sleeping with, he stomps it in the mud in contempt. Now, maybe this calls attention to the Hindu note that the Postive aspect of one of the chakras is called "Love" while the Negative is called "Clinging". Maybe he's demanding that their love be "free" --- but her answer is the heartbreaking "it's Easy To Be Hard."

Then again, one of the lyrical moments has the group break into the beautifully sung chant "Hare Krishna! Hare Rama!" only to follow it singing "Mari-juana! Mari-juana!" to the same music. Maybe they take no gods seriously. Maybe it's as PorkyPine told Pogo "Don't take life serious; it ain't nohow permanent."

There are details out of this quaint reminiscence of the Vietnam era that history has seriously de-fanged. A list of pollutants with the warning "The air! The Air! It's Everywhere!" isn't so shocking when twenty heads of state were conferring just last week on how to do something, Anything, about them. Singing the wry list "Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, masturbation" these days is more a description of cable-tv rather than the breach of good-taste it was intended originally.

There are still passages here that I react to like one of Pavlov's dogs. Hamlet's "What a piece of work is man" set to music gets me every time. And when Chrissy says "I think I'll just wait here a while" my eyes know she's about to break my heart singing "Frank Mills" --- a perfect distillation of young, silly love. I'm still amazed that it doesn't rhyme (Neither does "Moonlight in Vermont, but still), and I'm a quivering puddle of tears whenever I hear it. The entrance of the Moon into Aquarius, the nearly holy call to "Let The Sun Shine In", the flowing length of Berger's hair and the sudden cry that "Mary loved her Son; why won't my mother love me?" always catch me off guard.

Is it really just Galt MacDermot's now classic show-tunes, or am I seeing this beautiful old warhorse as an icon: a window into my own emotional past? Who knows.
I intended to start this screed with "TEN REASONS WHY MY REVIEW OF 'Hair!' IS IRRELEVENT AND MEANINGLESS" --- stuff like "#4 I can't remember what difference there was between a Love-In and a Be-In" "#8 I should have written this while high on pot but couldn't afford any" "#2 Every time I see it, I think they're singing all the songs in the wrong order" "#1 Since I can remember that Mr. Sinnott finally allowed 'Hair!' to open here in Boston --- even with someone wiping his ass with the American flag --- because they agreed (in private) to keep him from doing it with the Rosary, I know too damn much and remember too damn much to be able to see the show You are going to see"!

But the music is wonderful, the choreography sublime, and when you see it whatever plot you find will be your own, not mine.

FOOTNOTE: for a lovely history, click HERE

[ *** NOTE:
Date: Tue, 29 Sep 2009 12:41:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: John Mackenzie

I wanted to thank you for the concern over the volume of the piano. Because of your feedback (and others) we changed the mix on Saturday and I think it's much better. We are extending the run to the 18th of October - if you'd like to see it again let me know.
John MacKenzie
Director of Operations
Turtle Lane Players II, Inc.

"Hair!" (25 September - 18 October)
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON MA
1 (617) 244-0187

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