It is said that if you can remember the '60s, you weren't there. In the case of Gerome Ragni and James Rado's seminal rock opera "Hair" (with music by Galt Macdermot), that's only marginally true.
More than any other musical, it is so much a product of its time that any tampering with its period sensibilities courts disaster. Several attempts in the past few years to update "Hair" have been laughable. A quarter-century after its Broadway opening, the show's charm, fascination and poignant message are best seen in light of a production's emotional and intellectual ties with the special times in which it was conceived.
The authors have said they don't mind directors tinkering with the shape and form of the show, provided they don't try to make it something it isn't. A recent production at Brea's Curtis Theatre was close to the mark; even without the famous nude scene, it worked.
Chapman University's current production in Waltmar Theatre comes even closer, under the freewheeling direction of Michael Nehring.
The minimal story--Claude Hooper Bukowski's indecision about burning his draft card, his eventual conscription and his fate in Vietnam--is less important to "Hair" than the play's picture of the dropouts, the flower children who protested the war and the anguish with which they fought for peace and love. History has proved it a naive hopefulness. Yet the message of understanding and compassion is even more pertinent today than when "Hair" first opened.
This production includes the nude scene, an important moment in the show and a statement that is still valid. During Claude's number "Where Do I Go," many cast members disappear under a silken parachute, a symbol of the tools of war that senselessly destroy the young. When the chute is raised, they are naked as babes, their innocence proclaimed in the song's repeated phrase, "Follow the children." The moment is not gratuitous. It is heart-wrenching.
Nehring's large cast, the "tribe," has caught from him the spirit and the tone of the era. They have particularly captured the anger of the protests, the desperation of the escape from society and into the pseudo-mystical safety of drugs, and the aura of the love that that generation willed to the world.
If the voices do not always climb the heights of the music, Jon Talberg's rumbling and romping musical direction does a great deal to disguise the fact. Nancy Lewis' choreography is always too busy and chaotic, especially in the Be-In section and during Claude's last stoned trip before his induction.
But the energy of the company, and their dedication to the rhythmic shades in both the book and musical sections, re-creates "Hair's" special world. And that powerfully optimistic closing number, "Let the Sunshine In," still brings the members of the audience out of their seats clapping.
Notable in a good company are Randy Anderson's rough-hewn Berger, the tribe's nominal leader, Matthew McCray's naive, grinning, white-bread Claude, Rob Hagemeyer's randy puppy of a Woof, and Deanar Young's bitter humor as Hud.
Liz Pippin's pregnant Jeanie also stands out for her sense of humor throughout, along with Liz Maher's angry, earthy Sheila. One of the show's best numbers is Chrissy's touching "Frank Mills," which is given just the right lonely innocence by Jane Silvia.
The grungy, tossed-together-looking setting by Craig Brown has been carefully arranged to give a good visual image of the period, even when it and several of the scenes are too brightly and abruptly lit in Ron Coffman's lighting design. Dawn Martinez's costumes are just right. Some of the company's indistinct vocal diction in musical numbers is not made clearer by Devon DeVore's woolly sound design.
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* "Hair," Waltmar Theatre, Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. Ends Sunday. $7. (714) 997-6812. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Randy Anderson: George Berger
Matthew McCray: Claude Hooper Bukowski
Rob Hagemeyer: Woof
Deanar Young: Hud
Liz Maher: Sheila
Liz Pippin: Jeanie
Jane Silvia: Chrissy
A Chapman University department of theatre and dance production of the Gerome Ragni-James Rado-Galt Macdermot rock musical. Directed by Michael Nehring. Musical direction: Jon Talberg. Choreography: Nancy Lewis. Scenic design: Craig Brown. Lighting design: Ron Coffman. Sound design: Devon DeVore. Costume design: Dawn Martinez. Stage manager: Sherri Nierman.