“The Age of Aquarius.” “Let the Sunshine In.” “Hair.” Just reading the titles of the songs brings to mind a tired stereotype of drugged-out hippies prancing around blathering about love and flowers. Is there really any way that kind of thing could still be relevant today?
Astonishingly, the answer is a resounding yes.
Fifty years after its premiere, Hair, the “American Tribal Rock Musical,” still bristles with raw power, as proved in GLOW Lyric Theatre‘s new must-see production. Director Jenna Tamisiea and music director Christian Elser put a talented cast through a physical and emotional journey that still feels revolutionary.
The journey begins even before curtain time, as actors – already in character – mill around the open theatre space, creating a welcoming atmosphere as they interact with audience members and each other. The set, designed by Henry Wilkinson, consists of some low platforms, covered in blankets and pillows, with a few swaths of draped fabric in places. And as the music begins, the actors converge and undergo a small ritual in which they take a drug and the lights and music swirl more and maybe the whole evening is just going to be one long drug trip for all of us and then the “Age of Aquarius” dawns and draws us into its spell.
Waseem Alzer stars as Berger, the free-spirited leader of the tribe. Alzer brings an electric energy to the role, showing us how the character’s charisma could bring these people together, while also hinting at the darker parts of Berger’s soul. He’s also got a winning voice and a nice comic knack.
Gavin Carnahan plays Claude, the most conflicted member of the tribe. Carnahan does a great job conveying a character who is both man and boy, torn between the life spirit he gains from being part of the tribe and the strong pull of his parents’ influence to conform. He leads a winningly energetic version of “I Got Life” as well as the show’s signature number, “Hair.”
Katerina McCrimmon also makes a strong impression as Sheila, the object of both Berger’s and Claude’s desire. Her opening song, “I Believe in Love,” as well as another solo number, “Easy to Be Hard,” are real standouts, and McCrimmon is a warm presence throughout the play.
The cast is large and uniformly excellent, with every member given moments to shine. Just a few of those include Ray Jones’ imposing presence as Hud, Paige Vassel’s earnest singing of “Frank Mills,” AJ Tinci leading the song “Air,” Jena Brooks’ fluid dance poses as well as her stern presence as Claude’s mother, and Mitchell Bradford’s endearing yet pained portrayal of Woof. Most impressive is the intense, extended second act section that makes up Claude’s hallucination. It’s a bravura piece of theatre, with music, sound, lights (by KEVIN FRAZIER), costumes (by Justin Hall), and acting all coming together with a devastating potency.
Director Tamisiea choreographs her ensemble through writhing, naturalistic movements that sometimes have performers nearly oozing over each other, yet never wavering in pitch or intensity as they sing. Cat Richmond, for instance, is at one point literally draped on her back over another player’s shoulders, yet still maintains a clear and gorgeous soprano. This cast and production will wow you with their stamina, their marvelous musicianship (including a crack live band) and their raw emotional power. It’s a show that brings to light some stunningly topical ideas and feelings that serve as a potent reminder that the past was not always a shining example of “the good old days.” GLOW Lyric Theatre prides itself on basing each of their summer festival seasons on a theme, with the intent to engage a discourse. This year’s theme is Question Authority, and to that end, Tamisiea has inserted into the show – primarily on signs and banners – certain words and slogans that come straight from today’s headlines while still being eerily perfect for the setting of the show.
One of the enduring images of the sixties that stuck in my memory is that of a young hippie slipping the stem of a flower into the barrel of a soldier’s rifle. That exact moment plays out here and instead of being comic or comforting, it’s an act of defiance fraught with danger. It’s a moment that made me realize that for all the goofy caricature time has burdened them with, many of the aims and means of the flower power movement were truly brave and truly revolutionary. These were young people trying to believe in the power of love, despite being confronted with daily evidence of the world’s harshness and inhumanity. And is that really such a bad thing?