Margaret Mead once wrote, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
I wonder if anybody believes that any more.
In 1967, when “Hair,” the “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot, first burst on the scene, they did.
Artistic Difference’s excellent, energetic production, now running at The Space theater in Sacramento, is both a reminder of a time, 40 years ago, when we were engaged in a disastrous war — and the passion with which people protested that war. It was a time when, despite the horrors of a bad war, people still believed they could make a difference, they cared about raising their voice in protest.
“It’s no coincidence that we’re presenting this show at this particular time in history,” writes director Maggie Hollinbeck. “We’re here all over again, aren’t we? In a war that has divided the country, fighting for equal rights, witnessing horrific acts of violence and racism and hatred on the nightly news.”
The experience of this production of “Hair” begins with the somewhat dilapidated building itself, which could easily have served as some hippie pad in the 1960s. Members of the cast greet the arriving audience with smiles, flowers, and happy pills. Upon entering the theater itself, the audience is transported back 40 years by the set decoration, the cast wandering around the theater offering to share drags of herbal cigarettes (at least we assume they were herbal!) with anyone who wants. There are even seats on the stage for those who want to interact more fully with the cast.
Scenic designer Ian Wallace has nicely recreated the feel of Greenwich Village in the 60s.
The company has also devised an ingenious way to make the opening announcements about cell phones, pagers, and exit signs.
There is a plot of sorts – Claude Hooper Bukowski (Christian St. Croix) has received a draft notice and struggles with his conscience over whether to present himself for induction, or burn his draft card and remain with his friends, enjoying the free lifestyle and protesting the war. St. Croix brings poignancy to the role.
But while Claude’s struggle may be the plot line that drives the action, this is really a show about music, and this was the country’s first “rock musical,” with minimal dialog. Songs like “Aquarius” (hauntingly sung by Netty Carey) and “Let the Sunshine In,” the closing anthem, led by Lindsay Grimes and the irrepressible Cierra Tahsini, have a permanent place in our musical history.
Director Hollinbeck has a strong cast for this production. Jerry Lee, who was so perfect as the very British Earnest in Woodland Opera House’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” is equally perfect as Claude’s good friend George Berger, long-haired, barefoot, anti-establishment, and rocking out to songs like “Donna.”
Lee and St. Croix work well together, with Grimes the third point in a love-triangle. Grimes has the task of pointing out that the free-living, free-loving lifestyle is not always what it’s cracked up to be (“Easy to be Hard”).
Joelle L. Wirth as Jeannie, hopelessly suffering an unrequited love of Claude has a stand-out moment with “Hippie Life,” while Tygar L. Hicks stands out in the poignant “Frank Mills.”
Ryan P. Adame adds comic relief as Margaret Mead.
The first act “nude scene,” so shocking when “Hair” first opened in 1967, seems a more natural part of the action than anything to raise an eyebrow over, in this day when nudity in the media has become more commonplace. Some of the cast continued the partial nudity into the second act.
Michael Coleman is costume and wig designer and has done a terrific job recreating the period. The Afro on Inertia deWitt as Dionne is particularly striking.
Musical direction is by percussionist Elaine Lord, aided by DMTC’s longtime musical director Erik Daniels, while the production manager for the show is Mike McElroy, last seen as Frank in DMTC’s “Annie Get Your Gun.”
I was living in Berkeley when “Hair” premiered and I remember the feeling of hope and possibility. Seeing this production makes me realize that I’ve lost that feeling, and I came away from the show wondering if we will ever again see the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, when peace will guide the planet.