Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll: these are some of the things that viewers found in the Department of Theater and Dance’s production of Hair, which ran for the first weekend of May in Memorial Auditorium. The play has become infamous over the years for its atypical narrative structure, its professions of free love and, of course, its nude scene at the end of Act I. I have to admit that the rumor of live nudity was one of the things that attracted me to the show, but after I watched the production, I found out that Hair was so much more than I was expecting. It was an extravaganza of music and emotion and flower-power atmosphere. The production was truly groovy and one of the most fun shows I have ever been to.
The best part of Hair was the energy of the show. Even before the production started, a cast-member was seated on stage “criss-cross applesauce,” shirtless, wearing a Native American headdress while psychedelic changing lights were projected onto the walls of the theater. From that point on, the cast kept the energy of the ‘60s constantly flowing. Though the show lacked a standard narrative structure for a musical and was much more focused on the music rather than dialogue between the actors, the music was so great and passionate that I felt engaged for the entire time, even when I was unsure of where the plot was going or if there was a plot at all.
One of the interesting aspects of the show for me as well was the social critique of the hippie movement present in it. The show did embrace the sex-and-drug infused cultural moment of peace with songs about protest, getting high and making love. However, much of the dialogue brought into question whether hippie communes were as utopian as tradition makes them out to be. Even though hippie culture was all about free love and non-violence, Sheila and Berger’s romance criticized the effectiveness of polyamory and showed that even those who claim that they are pacifists can become violent.
The major narrative arc focuses on Claude’s crisis: to “grow up” and respond to his draft call, going to Vietnam, or to live his loose and free life in New York. This plot turned out to be thought-provoking and it was especially aided by props like the massive American flag that was suspended center-stage before the end of the play and the fall of snow during the production’s last moments of the play.
In terms of performance, it was an overall on-point production. I loved the inclusion of a live and costumed band on stage, which gave the vibe that the hippies were making not only their own community, but providing their own music. The cast’s interactions with the audience were also a special addition and helped to create the psychedelic vibe of the show. Berger both ran out into the audience at the beginning and then swung out into the audience on a rope; the cast often walked back and forth from the stage through the aisles, sometimes even on the armrests of the audience’s seats. It was a really interactive performance, especially at the end when the characters invited viewers to sing and dance to “Let the Sunshine In” on stage after curtain call. That was one of my best theater memories and I’m sure others feel the same as well.
I have very few critiques for the performance. When I saw it on May 1 at 7:30 p.m. , the first song of the second act “Electric Blues” was unpleasant because of the intense strobe lights that were used. They hurt my eyes and distracted me from the quality of the actors’ singing. Additionally, the actors who played Sheila and Claude could have been a bit stronger. Claude was sometimes hard to hear because he seemed more soft-spoken than those who played Berger and Woof, so sometimes his songs and lines fell a little flat because they were hard to hear. Sheila was good overall, but at times, her solos could have been stronger.
I came to Hair to get in on the experience that I heard so much about and I was not disappointed. From start to finish, it was not only a solid performance in music and acting, but a great performance in energy from every single member of the cast. Here’s to long, beautiful, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen Hair!