I have never been one for the stage show Hair. I never got it, never understood it and never enjoyed the musical or the movie. Ever.
Maybe it’s because the original off Broadway show actually pre-dates me by four months or maybe it’s because most of the stage versions I’ve seen were convoluted, confusing and watered down. The Age of Aquarius was simply unrelatable and way too “out there” for me.
When Arts Theatre Collective (ACT) announced that it was staging a 50th Anniversary production of the original Broadway show and the publicity machine started, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be as stunning as the highly acclaimed Dreamgirls production earlier this year, but I promised myself I’d leave my mind open to yet another interpretation of the weird hippie show I never understood and be as polite and respectful as I could when it came time to review the show. Wow, was that a miscalculation on my part.
We weren’t in town when Hair opened at The Capitol Theatre on September 7. I felt like we’d missed out on that opening night glitz that ACT is starting to becoming famous for, but there’s also something to be said about seeing a show when the cast is a bit more comfortable with each other.
And comfortable they were. The show was not only visually stunning, it was an incredible experience throughout. The moment Nico Di Tondo removed her jean shorts underneath a revealing tassel skirt, my mind changed gears. Suddenly this strong, sensual woman was playing the role of George Berger and she was kicking ass and taking names. It literally took me by surprise. There was no shame as she sang and danced around in what was basically a small pair of pink underwear playing a role traditionally played by men. The androgynous approach to the role actually gave the show life as the rest of the cast slowly got introduced through the show, each with their own personalities injected into the roles.
The basics of Hair is simple. It’s a musical story of a group of hippies who celebrate peace and love in the shadow of the Vietnam War. The loose plotline centers on Berger, the charismatic leader of the “tribe,” and Claude, a sweet-natured guy from Queens who’s about to be drafted. It’s a very “make love, not war” kind of thing that boasts a lot of drug use, sexual references and some brief nudity.
Director Chris Rabideau decided to leave the drugs, sex and nudity in the show, but along the way he seemed to modernize the play enough that it became interesting. There were subtle interjections about the stigmas and prohibitions that still haunt us today, including a fabulous scene where members of the Tribe came out on stage with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced.
The stage was fairly bare, with no real props other than a tower of abstract scaffolding at the rear of the stage for the Tribe to dance and swing on. That left everything up to the actors to lead the show through two rather long sets of song and dance routines. In one scene, there was a flashy Stomp-like drum interlude that showed us that this really wasn’t the Hair of old. It was a burst of fun.
At the end of the first act, many of the cast members actually stripped down on stage for the “infamous” nude scene as the lights slowly shifted to a dimly lit blue light as the cast took to the scaffolding. There was enough light to see that those who chose to get naked, were indeed sans clothing, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable nude scene – it was liberating and as we were told, at the choice and discretion of the cast members. Kyle Cloutier got the worst of the scene as a spotlight shined on the upper part of his body for his full frontal exposure aimed towards the audience as the curtain closed. There was also a moment where it looked like the cast stood still (maybe as a homage to the original cast who bared it all in 1968 and were forced to stand still for the scene).
The cast of the show really made the difference. They were firmly in character and it felt like they were there for a reason bigger than just art itself. And I believe that’s why the story seemed to make sense to me for the first time. Hair is more than a show about peace and love and it’s certainly more than a brief nude scene that seems to always get the attention of the audience. It’s a show about breaking down cultural, sexual and racial boundaries, while promoting freedom, life and liberation.
It’s actually incredible to think the cast and crew pulled this show off in only seven weeks. It’s part of ACT’s 30 Under 30 program which has a goal to celebrate youth and their artistic abilities while being paired with mentors from the Windsor-Essex area like Leslie McCurdy, Kathy Costa, Moya McAlister and Rabideau.
While only a couple actors were picked out for moments in this review, the entire cast was fabulous and deserves every moment of the standing ovation they had (which, by the way, happened even before the music stopped). They are as follows: Kianna Porter, Nico Di Tondo, Kyle Cloutier, Avonlea Smith, Floyd Nolan-Ducedre, Mikee Anthony, Meghan Eyre, Courtney Scratch, Martel DeAndre, Dewight Brazton Jr., Tatyana Wiebe, Drew Dagenais, Bailey Soulliere, Jasmine Knight, Meagan Badih, Rochelle Day, Albert Sharp and Brandon Soto Rivera.
Musical director Nathan Schiller gave the music a much appreciated modern rock approach and the choreography created by Brandon Soto Rivera and Nico Di Tondo was exciting and fresh.
Rabideau’s direction and vision for this show was right on the money. He’s quickly becoming a standout in the Windsor theatre community for his ability to think big and dream big. His desire to create and craft plays and musicals that tackle issues, break down barriers and hit issues head on is unparalleled. Here’s to hoping this streak continues with next year’s production of ACT’s The Wiz.
While I still don’t relate to the original Hair production or movie, ACT gave me an entirely new appreciation for it and how it can be adopted to a more modern age. It even somewhat opened my eyes to my own age of Aquarius that appropriately began with a nude scene right there in my home once we got back from the show. My wife April is still shaking her head over that one.