Cast gives ‘Hair’ a quick styling before Hollywood Bowl shows
Wherever the musical “Hair” is performed, the casting requirements are the same: young, good looking, capable of carrying a rock tune. Looking great in various states of undress also helps.
The lead performers in the Hollywood Bowl’s production of the “American tribal love-rock musical” that runs Friday through Sunday easily fit the bill — at least as far as the first three traits are concerned.
Playing flower children in search of free love and unfettered mind expansion, Kristen Bell, Hunter Parrish and Benjamin Walker were in the thick of rehearsals when they sat down to talk about their roles in the production.
“It’s a lot of information to digest in two weeks,” said Bell, who recently sang in the Disney movie “Frozen” and worked in New York theater productions before landing the 2004 TV series “Veronica Mars,” a role she reprised earlier this year in a movie financed in part through a Kickstarter campaign.
As is customary with the annual Bowl musicals, the “Hair” cast has had fewer than 14 days to get the semi-staged show up and running.
“The benefit of the show in my opinion is that 70 to 90% of it is music. And it’s a little bit easier to memorize music than it is dialogue,” said Bell, who is playing the role of Sheila, an earnest political activist.
Parrish joked that “we’ll just be beginning to understand it right when we finish” the show on Sunday. The actor, a former cast member of the Showtime series “Weeds,” is playing Claude, the fresh-faced tribal leader from Queens, and the closest thing the musical has to a protagonist.
He starred a few years ago in a Broadway production of “Godspell,” another countercultural touchstone.
“It’s cool to do another show that is about ‘the community,’” he said. “In most shows, you do your scene or a song, and you don’t get to commune as much... I enjoy that about these types of shows, where we get to have fun together.”
The subject of nudity was still undecided at the time of the interview. A spokesman for the production said the musical will contain some nudity, but the three lead actors said that they were still deciding how much flesh they wanted to show.
Playing the role of Berger, a freewheeling, frequently drugged-up hippie, Walker said his wardrobe sometimes consists of a loin cloth, a wig and little more. But the prospect of showing off most of his 6-foot, 3-inch frame didn’t seem to scare or excite the actor.
"[The musical] asks more questions than it answers. So hopefully boobs and butts are the least of what people will go away with,” said Walker.
The Bowl’s nearly 18,000-seat capacity — filled with smartphone-wielding fans — has been an important factor in considering how much clothing to take off. “The decision isn’t to be naked or not but whether you want someone to have a picture of it,” said Parrish.
Bell added that thanks to user-generated online video, questions about nudity are “no longer about the art.”
The actress is no stranger to the challenges of “Hair,” having previously played the role of Crissy in a 1999 student production at New York University.
The production received a visit from “Hair” co-writer James Rado, who has revised the musical on and off since the Public Theater debuted the show in New York in 1967. (He co-wrote the musical with the late Gerome Ragni.)
“He will come in and change things,” Bell said. Over the years, revisions to “Hair” have included new lyrics and moving songs between different characters.
Rado said in a phone interview that he has been involved with all major “Hair” productions, including the Public’s well-received 2009 revival that went on to Broadway.
For the Bowl production, “I’m going to talk to them as a friendly observer. They’re probably under a lot of pressure, so I’ll probably judiciously offer notes and through the director mainly,” he said.
Rado played Claude when the musical opened in Los Angeles in late 1968 at the Aquarius Theatre on Sunset Boulevard, less than two miles from the Bowl. (The theater was located on what is now the Nickelodeon studios lot.)
A Times review described the musical as irreverent, “but shocking it is not.” The cast included Ragni as Berger and pop singer Jennifer Warnes as Sheila.
The Bowl production of “Hair” is being staged by Adam Shankman, the movie director and choreographer who has also been a regular presence on the reality competition series “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Shankman said he had to make a decision early on as to whether Bell’s pregnancy would be an issue. The character Sheila isn’t pregnant, but another member of the ensemble of characters is. (Bell accepted the role before she found out she was pregnant with her second child. She is married to actor-director Dax Shepard.)
“Kristen called me and said that she still wanted to do the show but would understand if it was a problem,” said Shankman. He said costumes will be able to conceal signs of her pregnancy, though the actress is “more popped than I thought she would be.”
Bell currently lives on the east side of L.A. and said she has had the luxury of riding her bike to “Hair” rehearsals.
Parrish said he resides in Sherman Oaks, though in recent months, he was shuttling to the East Coast for a recurring role in CBS’ “The Good Wife,” where this season he played an unstable defendant who opened fire in a courtroom and fatally injured attorney Will Gardner (Josh Charles).
Of the three leads, only Walker isn’t a local. The actor lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and has been staying at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood for the duration of rehearsals.
“I hate driving, so it’s been nice to be able to walk to work,” said the actor, who was in Australia shooting a period-drama movie prior to “Hair” rehearsals.
Walker has perhaps the most theatrical experience of the three leads. He appeared last year in a Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” opposite Scarlett Johansson, and in the 2008 musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which ran at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City before transferring to New York.
Walker described “Hair” as a somewhat amorphous, ensemble effort. “The story is charmingly vague. It’s all about the chemistry that the cast brings,” he explained.
The leads said that they won’t get a chance to rehearse “Hair” in costumes until just a few days before the first performance. The quickly looming date didn’t seem to be weighing too heavily on them.
Parrish jokingly suggested a strategy for covering up a flubbed line: “We can shout, ‘I’m on drugs!’”
On that note, the cast members were asked if they were experimenting with any mind-altering substances as research for their roles.
Walker, whose character arguably takes the most drugs of the entire ensemble, started laughing but otherwise declined to comment.
Bell deadpanned: “Yes, a lot! Quite a bit.”
Parrish invoked his eight-year run in “Weeds” and replied, “I spent eight years high on a show, so I’m done.”
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