It’s the Psychedleic Stone Age at the Acorn Theatre. People are blowing smoke rings onstage, kissing strangers and dropping their clothes left and right, in Hair , an exuberant, enthusiastic performance by the Real Theatre Company. Performed on a sparsely decorated stage by a cast of youthful actors, the production is a homage to the true spirit of Hair – youth, love, freedom and fear.
Written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot, , and originally performed on Broadway in 1967, Hair is the story of a group of young adults in New York. They smoke pot, they have sex and they protest the war. Their ages, races and sexualities vary, but they don’t care. They are joined by love – love for peace, love for freedom and love for each other.
The narration of the show is loose and disjointed and at times difficult to follow, but the main conflict of the show is that one of their friends, Claude (Logan Hall) has recently been drafted for the Vietnam War. Claude, claims that he hails from Manchester, England, and he states many times that he, an Aquarius, is a genius, destined for greatness or madness. Instead, it seems he is destined for war. He says he does not want to go and – almost – burns his draft card several times. He is terrified of going to battle, of fighting and killing, but he is also terrified the consequences of not going.
The actions – albeit few – of the show are acted out in scenes of dialogue, but the real drive of the show comes from the music. The songs are performed with an enthusiasm and abandon by the cast that is delightfully authentic. When asked by his nagging parents why he is happy and what he has in life, Claude responds with the song, “I Got Life,” in which he lists all of his assets – his hair, his eyes and his teeth, to name a few. He runs throughout the audience, inviting others to join him in his song, transforming the melody into a joyful anthem of celebration, which many of the prosaic members of the audience would do good to recall after leaving the theatre.
Another highlight of the show is the title song, performed by Berger (Ryan Stone) and Claude when asked by strangers why they have such long hair. The turbulent, chaotic dance that accompanies this song, performed by the entire Tribe, lacks discipline and form but the free-loving spirit and joy of the tribe is what makes the song a success.
Their joy is infectious, and so is their fear. The show is not entirely flower-power, peace signs and LSD. The impressions of the war acted out by the cast are violent and disturbing, to say the least. The fear is authentic: “We’re all Vietnam bait!” says one of the members of the Tribe when someone mentions that if Claude does burn his draft card, he could be sent to jail.
The spirit of the show can be credited to the unity of the Tribe and the affection they share with each other. The majority of the score’s numbers are sung by some, if not all of the group, and their harmony (no pun intended) is obvious and admirable. One of the sweeter moments takes place during, “Good Morning, Starshine,” at the end of Claude’s last night with the tribe as they promise to go to the army induction center with him in the morning and protest his enlistment. The Tribe successfully functions as a group, but it does have a few standouts – the lovely Helen Highfield as Shelia, and the hilarious Mack Exilus as Hoof, to name just two, as well as Laura Sessoms as Chrissy, whose sweet rendition of “Frank Mills” is a highlight of the evening.
The most haunting aspect of this production of Hair is how timeless its story is. This summer marks the 40th anniversary of its first production but change a few words of dialogue and the name of the President, and it could have been written this year. The senseless war, the countless deaths, the disconnect between generations, exists in this generation as much as the previous one, as does the curiosity and sadness resulting from the violence of war. The image of two of the actors singing, “What a piece of work is man…noble in reason,” while looking at sleeping bodies representing the dead in war and saluting is both chilling and haunting.
Although it could be easy to dismiss the Tribe as hippies, flower children, or simply idealists, their spirit is admirable, as is their determined joy. The repeated cry of, “Peace, Now! Freedom, Now!” is a catchy one (as is the phrase, “Draft Beer! Not Boys!” or the simpler, “This Shit Sucks”).
The show is somewhat rough around the edges – the signing and dancing are not perfect, and much of the vocals are drowned out by the too-loud onstage band. But these imperfections are what make the show more realistic and more authentic. A sleek, stylized performance of Hair would not do Rado, Ragni or MacDermot justice. They need something a little more crazy. Or, as the Tribe would say, groovy, man.