The Theater department brought the open sexuality, anti-war politics and rampant drug consumption of 1968 to present day with its production of the rock musical “Hair,” which they performed from Feb. 23 to March 10.
The cast sang with good stage presence and chemistry between actors, but the show’s content could be off-putting to the unfamiliar viewer. The plot can be hard to follow and it’s not always clear when characters are being serious or satirical because of the lack of trust built in the beginning of the show.
The show begins with the 12-member cast wandering toward the stage from the back of Decker theater, each with long hair, ’60s bell bottom jeans and peace sign vests. Dancing in the aisles to dreamy music, the cast hands flowers to audience members before meeting onstage and singing about how they believe the planets have aligned for peace and love. The number is a strong opening with harmonies of all ranges that are heard despite the small cast singing without microphones and over audio accompaniment,.
Andrew Hallas plays Berger, who declares his attraction to “a sixteen year-old virgin” in the first of the show’s many ensemble-supported solos. Next Jared Pengra, who plays Woof, sings a solo asking the audience why words like “sodomy” and “masturbation” are wrong.
Both songs hint at the overall theme of sexual revolution, but so far it seems like a revolution only for men. The women are physically sensual with each other throughout the show, but the plot focuses on men who are romantically involved with multiple women and women who love men that don’t return their adoration.
Tim Busch, the cast’s only black man, sings a song sarcastically listing anti-black slurs as the character Hud. Busch sang with clear skill, but because the cast had one black man and the show typically has at least three, the song didn’t translate well and makes Hud appear more tokenized than he is.
The first character who establishes trust with the audience is Claude, played by Zak Campbell. Campbell’s song “Manchester England” and its frequent reprise are strengths in the show because of his audience engagement and confidence on stage. Campbell sings genuinely and his character carries the non-linear plot about a group of young hippies in 1968 New York dodging the Vietnam War draft and spreading “the groovy revolution.”
Claude and Berger’s girlfriend Sheila is played by Kate Cummings, whose projection was strong in both dialogue and songs. Her character’s conviction is showcased after Berger rips a shirt she gives him and then yells at her, leading into her heartbreaking solo about men not returning the compassion she shows them.
The show’s strongest numbers were “Goin’ Down,” lead by Hallas, following “Hair,” lead by Hallas and Campbell, who embrace each other while they sing with the ensemble about the freedom they feel when they grow out their hair.
When the group smokes hallucinogen-laced cannabis joints, Claude has visions of historical figures in out-of-character scenarios. One hallucination shows Ronny, played by the cast’s lone black woman, Moe Lewis, as Abraham Lincoln reciting a satirical version of the Gettysburg Address in her song “Abie Baby.”
At 16 years old, Lewis performs with skill surpasses that of her older castmates and sets the foundation for the powerhouse anti-war anthem “Three Five Zero Zero” where the cast lists the ways American soldiers kill Vietnamese soldiers in “a dirty little war.”
The songs condemn war and promote personal freedom, but the plot retains misogynistic undertones typical of 1968. Despite this, the cast’s chemistry and theatrical skills entertainingly sell their performance, leaving the audience feeling like they’ve seen a professional production.