While putting on his uniform to attend an all-boy Catholic high school in Orange County, Marshal Kennedy Carolan never dreamed that in a few short years he would grow out his hair and travel the country, doing drugs, dissing the establishment and taking part in political demonstrations.
All onstage, of course.
Carolan is part of the ensemble in the national touring company of the famed (and divisive) "HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical," which underwent a successful Broadway revival in 2009.
"Essentially the show's plot is about this group of young people protesting the Vietnam War and draft cards, but I think this show has such a great meaning," Carolan said. "There are so many crazy things happening now, like the war overseas and the marriage equality debate. I feel like it's really spiraled, and I think this show's reminding people of the basic needs of love, peace and understanding."
Carolan grew up near the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now called the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and graduated from Servite High School in Anaheim in 2003. While there, he participated in the Tri-School Theatre program, which pairs Servite actors with those from two area Catholic girls' high schools for joint theatrical productions.
Carolan said he grew out his hair for "HAIR," instead of wearing a wig.
"It's pretty shaggy right now," he said. "Everyone who hasn't seen me in forever can't believe it. It's fun, though ... we're definitely doing a lot of stuff onstage that isn't what they taught us to do at Servite. But their theater program is what really inspired me to major in it in college; it was my first stepping stone."
Carolan said his mother had season tickets to venues like the Pantages, so he would go there and to the OCPAC frequently.
When he got older and attended Cal State Fullerton, Carolan bought student rush tickets and spent many a night in the back row at Segerstrom Hall.
"It will be fun to come back and perform there now," he said. "It's nice because my family and friends and school friends are all coming to see the show."
Carolan's trajectory was set when chose to focus solely on musical theater in college, eschewing a double major or even a minor.
"My parents kind of were like, 'Are you sure you didn't want to minor in anything else like business?' But the program kept us so busy; none of us really had a chance to major or minor in another program," Carolan said.
Upon graduation, he moved to New York City to pursue his dream, and first saw "HAIR" the week the revival opened on Broadway.
"I was like, 'I want to do that show because it's so cool to see all these young adults out there sending out this amazing message,'" Carolan said. "It was really inspiring. So many shows are cute, but that's it. I wanted to do it so badly, and now I get to perform with some of the people I saw onstage that night, who joined the touring cast."
Carolan got the gig the old-fashioned way: He went to an open call in New York, and then was called in six months later for six hectic rounds of callbacks. Two weeks later, he got the job.
"I've never toured before, so this is all a new experience for me, but I'm so day-by-day that they keep me organized, which is great," Carolan laughed. "Every tour is very different, I'm sure, but we have a very chill mood to our cast. For the most part, we all fly together, which is fun. Here, I'm staying with my folks and driving to [Los Angeles] for rehearsals."
Carolan said people in different parts of the country have reacted to the show differently.
"When we opened in D.C. at the Kennedy Center, especially with the war and all of those rallies, which happened right in the middle of our time there, it was very tense," he said. "I think such a political show was very intimidating for people in the theater, both for the actors and in the audience. Next was Portland and Seattle. All those hippies up there had so much fun; I think that's when the show really relaxed. Every city is completely different."
Carolan said he didn't know what to expect when the show opened in Orange County.
"I'm really interested to find out," he said. "I think Orange County is probably one of the more conservative areas, but I still think people go into 'HAIR' knowing what it's about."
Carolan urged ticket holders to "go to the show with an open heart and listen; don't go in with a one-sided mind, on either side of the issue. Let the show make you think, instead of yourself."
If You Go
What: "HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical"
When: Through Feb. 6
Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: $20 and up
Information: (714) 556-2787 or scfta.org