Two weekends ago I was spun back in time to the 1960s, a time of great upheavel for young Americans on the cusp of individuality and maturity; and, a time of great music. The Egyptian Theatre Company had opened it’s presentation of the 1968 Broadway musical Hair on June 25 to a near sold-out performance that was sponsored by QSaltLake. This production of the “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” is wonderfully and gayly depicted by director Jerry Rapier, who says, “Hair isn’t really about hippies, nudity, drugs or sex. It’s about finding one’s place, eliminating extremes and discarding labels … ”.
It most definitely discards labels; Rapier really gays-it-up in this production: In multiple scenes, homosexual proclivity takes “center stage,” if you will. But really, Hair combs through the insecurities, fears and hopes of a “tribe” of bohemian hippies who spend their days in Central Park smoking marijuana, dropping hallucinogens and participating in the anti-Vietnam War movement.
The characters’ plights are universal, to an extent, to modern day issues that young adults face — from romantic entanglements within the tribe: “I’m hung up on Claude, Sheila’s hung up on Berger, Berger is hung up everywhere. Claude is hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger,” says Jeannie, a naive, pregnant tribal member, to Claude’s — the central character — struggle with joining in the war or burning his draft card, or just giving up completely: “I can’t take this moment to moment living on the streets … I know what I want to be … invisible.”
The central theme of Hair is as heavy-hearted, and perhaps sometimes even as discouraging as reality. But it’s a musical, and musicals are meant to be fun and invigorating. Not only does Rapier accomplish this task, the entire cast does as well. Seth Barney, who plays Berger, the crude and sexually driven free spirit, is comically boisterous; Fred Sherman Lee’s portrayal of Claude is charismatic, leaving … well at least the QSaltLake audience members eager for the “full monty” scene. Deena Marie Manzanares is gorgeous on stage; and though it felt, at times that opening night, like she was struggling with her vocals, especially in “The Flesh Failures” number with Lee and the amazing songstress Kandyce Marie Gabrielsen (Dionne), she is an absolute pleasure to watch. Alyssa M. Simmons (Jeanie), Timothy Letheic Goins (Hud) and David Holmes (Woof) are strong, symmetrical components to the show — I particularly enjoyed Holmes’ fawning over a Mick Jagger poster. Nathan Shaw and Luke Monday steal the show though, at the end of Act I, with their portrayal of married tourists who come into contact with the tribe.
Musical director David Evanoff and choreographer David Holmes culminate rock-driven songs and beautifully loose, freeing dance numbers. The musical numbers in Act I, opening with the “Age of Aquarius,” is a bit tame compared to the emotionally driven second act. Civil disobedience erupts in “Abie Baby;” The war-torn “3-5-0-0” rips through your body like a bullet; the poetic version of Shakespeare’s “What A Piece of Work is Man” is moving — Lauren Noll’s performance of this song is her pinnacle moment in the show, and it is absolutely memorable.
The psychedelic Central Park set design by Peter Mayhew could use a stronger dose of tracer-inducers, but sometimes you just get the slightly bunk stuff. Heidi Calwell Ortega’s costumes are apropos to the 1960’s hippie era: headbands, feathers, bell bottoms, fringed vests, etc.
Hair is not receding, and it may never be. But however long that remains true, this musical sends messages of hope for brighter futures and the strength of familial bonds.
Hair is in style through July 25, Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., Park City. Tickets are $22, 435-649-9371 or parkcityshows.com.