Golden Living Dreams Of Visions
By R. J. Donovan
Seldom do you hear cheering like that that occurred on Opening Night for "Hair." The Colonial Theatre embraced the touring production of the Broadway revival like it was an old friend. And to much of the audience, that was probably the case.
With music by Galt MacDermot and book and lyrics by James Rado (who was in the audience) and Gerome Ragni, the Tribal Rock Love Musical is with us for the next six weeks.
"Hair," the world's first rock musical, dates back to the sixties during a time of counterculture war protests, drug use, drop-outs, love-ins and general hippie-dom. Where it was once edgy and highly controversial, it's now a call-back to cosmic time that ironically speaks to the same issues we face today.
"Hair" has been revived several times in the past in New York and around the world, but never with the fervor and success as this production, directed and nurtured by Diane Paulus. She first transformed it into a concert version for New York's Central Park, then as a downtown stage production for the Public Theatre, and finally as a full blown love fest on Broadway. As locals know, Paulus currently serves as Artistic Director at the A.R.T. across the river.
The Tribe, as they are called, are a loyal bunch of politically charged free love fanatics who hate the war and the establishment. The group of love children is led by Berger, a free spirit with long hair, a dazzling smile and the penchant to strip down at a moment's notice (asking a gentleman in the front row to hold his pants for him).
No one wants to go to war, but when Berger gets tossed out of school, he becomes bait for the armed forces. However it's his friend, the "invisible" Claude, who's more at risk. His parents want him to straighten up, get a job and get on with his life. As well, his father says he's be proud for his son to wear a uniform.
Meanwhile, the very pregnant Jeanie (who's in love with Claude, who's in love with Sheila who's in love with Berger) sings of the chemicals poisoning the air. Black girls sing of white boys, white girls sing of black boys, the Mick Jagger-obsessed Woof sings of every sexual proclivity imaginable and the whole crowd is ready to get high.
Two comical tourists, who stand out like sore thumbs, seek guidance from The Tribe in understanding their cause. It's one of the funniest moments in the show.
When The Tribe later gathers to burn draft cards in a show of solidarity, Claude tries to, but can't. His fate is soon sealed.
The final moments of the evening deliver an emotional sucker-punch. But then, the Be-In is used as a curtain call, with the audience invited to climb up on stage and join the fun. Which they do -- in droves.
Throughout the night, the cast is in the aisles, on top of the seats and in the boxes, generally using the entire theatre as its psychedelic playground. This creates a wonderful involvement, making the audience feel as much a part of the show as the actors.
Everyone in the cast is magnetic with wonderful voices emerging again and again. Steel Burkhardt (far left) is a dark and smoldering Berger, totally submerged in the haze of his heavy-deep-and-real life. As Claude, Paris Remillard (right) is striking as the young man who's torn between the life that he thinks he wants and the reality that he gets. In a show that's filled with stand out moments, Remillard gets one of the best with the gripping "Where Do I Go." (The accompanying nude scene, which once caused so much of a ruckus, seems so innocent today. The stage is flooded with color, the lights are dim and the cast stands united as Claude reaches the emotional end of his solo.) Together, the two guys lead the company in the title number.
As lovelorn Jeanie, Kacie Skeik delivers "Air," Phyre Hawkins leads the rousing "Aquarius," Kaitlin Kiyan does a sweet job with "Frank Mills" and with a powerful set of pipes, Caren Lyn Tackett (activist Shelia) sets the house on fire with "I Believe In Love" and "Easy To Be Hard."
Not to be left out are Allison Guinn and Josh Lamon who play several small roles in the show to magnificent effect. Lamon is Claude's father as well as one of the comical tourists (who long preceded Mary Sunshine in "Chicago"). Guinn is Claude's mother plus the Buddhadalirama.
Note also goes to Marshall Kennedy Carolan, a member of the Tribe who gets a couple of moments to use his big voice in "What A Piece Of Work Is Man." (It's easy to see why Carolan understudies the role of Claude.)
Paulus' staging, supported by a rainbow lighting design by Kevin Adams that stretches right out into the house, presents the night as an exuberant, non-stop, celebration.
Consider yourself lucky if you can get a ticket to the party.
"Hair" is at The Colonial Theatre through April 10. For information, call 800-982-2787.
Production photos: Joan Marcus
-- OnStage Boston
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