For a show built around the most important concepts of real life — self-expression, freedom, love, peace — an air of unreality hangs over the Broadway touring production of “Hair.”
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for this highly entertaining show that hits its groovy groove right at the outset, then sails along on its cast’s collective charisma.
Surely the protests and intellectual discussions of that turbulent time were grittier, down-and-dirtier than this slick production. But, of course, romanticizing the past to make it entertaining in the present, is a time-honored conceit.
And in this case, if it lets boomers recall their younger years with a smile and a wink, who am I to stand in their way? Peace, man, peace.
Besides, there’s much to enjoy here.
“Hair” rather defiantly thumbs its nose at standard theatrical storytelling. There’s less a plot than a collection of songs capturing a snapshot of emotions as Claude, part of a tribe of hippies, is called up to the Army. So the audience sees a protest, complete with the burning of draft cards, as well as some other pivotal moments.
But most of the musical numbers simply express an emotion or explain the characters’ feelings. It’s not easy to convey something so intimate in a venue the size of the Bob Carr, but this production succeeds in making the theater seem more intimate.
Cast members climb scaffolding on either side of the stage to lean out over the audience and be closer to those sitting in the balcony. They run up and down the aisles throughout the show, dancing, passing out flowers and protest leaflets, carrying signs: “Save water, shower with a friend” or “I saw God … and she is black.”
Even when onstage, the cast performs with such feeling that their characters end up with more personality than the show provides them. As Berger, the unofficial leader of the tribe, Steel Burkhardt oozes free-wheeling sex appeal, swinging his hips as much as his hair. He’s the king of the mellow swagger (though that sounds like an oxymoron).
As Claude, Paris Remillard is Berger’s biggest fan, caught between his hero worship and the Army’s call. Remillard convincingly yo-yos between Claude’s blustery rebellion and innocent fear.
Phyre Hawkins, who leads the famous opening song “Aquarius,” is a notch above the standard belting diva, the nuances in her voice matching the emotional expressions on her face. Matt DeAngelis wows with high notes and a sweetly comic performance as Woof (he’s not gay but is in love with Mick Jagger, he explains). And Josh Lamon is even funnier as anthropologist Margaret Mead satisfying her curiosity about these hippies.
Only Caren Lyn Tackett, as Sheila, doesn’t quite blend with the rest of the tribe, partly because of miking that emphasizes her strident delivery, and more strangely because her costume is anachronistic to the others’ beads and fringe, paisley and plaid look. Her outfit could have been bought last week at the Gap.
The famous nude scene is intact. (Heck, Burkhardt strips down to a thong in the opening moments, giving the front row quite a show.) But the nudity is important. Among the glossy pop songs, it reminds us that these characters hold to their beliefs so strongly that they’ll put their money where their mouths are. Not only do they strip physically, they will bare their souls.
And it’s that emotional accessibility that engulfs the audience, singing and swaying to the final choruses: “Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in.”
Theater review: 'Hair' from Florida Theatrical Association
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