Review: HAIR

by Lynn on January 24, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado

Music by Galt MacDermot

Directed and choreographed by Julie Tomaino

Musical Supervisor, Giustin MacLean

Set by Brandon Kleiman

Costumes by Kathleen Black

Lighting by Kristen Watt

Sound by Jeremy Hutton

Cast: Sophie Berkowitz

Marisa Dashney

Georgia Fox

Christian Hodge

Will Mackenzie

Katie Miller

Andrew Perry

David Andrew Reid

And a large chorus

Hair is perhaps the most iconoclastic musical in forever. It thumbed its nose at every other form. And still does so today. This production is fun for so many reasons.

 The Story. It’s the 1960s and we are in the middle of the Viet Nam War. A group of high school friends have bandied together and ‘dropped out’ of a society they don’t believe in—their parents’ society. They have grown their hair to thumb their nose at society that expects its youth to be neat, clean and respectful.

Three friends are at the center of this hippie group are three friends: Claude, Berger and Sheila. Claude is trusting, confused, anxious about his draft notice and  doesn’t know what to do. Berger believes in sex, drugs and rock and roll. Sheila is the moral centre of the group and protests the Viet Nam War, rallies her friends to do the same and loves Claude. Friends tell Claude to go to Canada (Toronto). He takes the path of least resistance.

 The Production and comment. Hair opened Off Broadway at the Public Theatre in 1967 and no one had ever seen anything like it before or since. It was the first rock musical. It was about a tribe of dropout hippies who celebrated counter culture, drugs and rock and roll.  Hair was and is iconoclastic, thumbing its nose at society, its terrible war, proper conventions, attitudes and ideals. It seemed to break every rule of the musical form in that characters we never noted had solos and then disappeared into the ‘tribe’. The songs seemed disjointed and not of a whole, but of course that depicted the fractured world of the tribe. It was a metaphor of course.

I knew all the lyrics as I watched the buoyant Hart House Theatre production. That surprised me, but shouldn’t have. When I first saw it (eons ago) I just gobbled up those clever, vibrant, full-of-attitude lyrics.

This was 50 years ago. And young people are still leading the way (in many cases) protesting things they feel are wrong: guns, violence, racism, bullying, war, etc.

 Julie Tomaino has directed and choreographed the exuberance and irreverence of the piece into her lively production. The cast to a person sings beautifully especially Andrew Perry as Berger. As Claude, Christian Hodge conveyed a touching sense of being lost, confused and fearful of having to go to war. And Marisa Dashney is fearless and focused as Sheila.

Kathleen Black’s psychedelic coloured, flowing costumes captures that long-ago era of flamboyant self-expression. If I have a concern it’s that the sound seems muddy and not sharp. You want to hear those lyrics that Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Composer Galt MacDermot died recently. His music definitely lives on.

I liked this production a lot but had to wonder, with a smile, how much the young cast had to be told about that time. How does one explain who Kate Smith was? Timothy Leary? The Viet Nam War? The whole cast engaged fully and with commitment.

Produced by Hart House Theatre.

Opened: Jan. 18, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 2, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, approx.

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1 BRIAN STEIN January 25, 2019 at 2:00 pm

Thomas Wolfe was right. I tried to go home last night, some 50 years after I saw Hair, the tribal musical, on Broadway, followed by the West End production, followed by the Toronto production. What can I say, I really love the score. But my decision was a big mistake, although judging from the age group that showed up at the theatre on the campus of the University of Toronto, I wasn’t the only one willing to take the nostalgic trip. Canes and walkers abounded. Like me, they had no trouble with the dated references. Hair ushered in rock opera. The production tonight ushered it out and I want to say back to the moth balls but I know that NBC is producing it live later this spring. (First however will be the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Rent this Sunday evening at 8 pm.) I sure hope they respect their material more than the Equity director did last night. For starters you cannot do a 60s musical with current instruments and orchestrations. It just doesn’t sound authentic. The opening number, Aquarius, showed lots of promise. Musically, it soared. But things quickly went south. The director who also provided the repetitious choreography had no idea what to with her actors. Yes, they moved, but monotonously. Which was ashamed because there were some really fine voices among the ensemble, and plenty of energy. By the time Act One ended, with no sense that the famous nude scene was all about protest, we took our leave without even letting the sun shine in. Call me a dissenter. I wasn’t the only one to leave.