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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
The performers look fairly authentic 1960s counter-culture in Guy Lee Bailey's costumes, though they seem a bit too fresh out of the shower with neatly styled hair for lyrics like "Long as God can grow it, My Hair!/ Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees/Give a home to the fleas in my hair. . ." They are of course too young to have any first-hand acquaintance with the origins of the show that first rocked at the Papp Public Theater in downtown Manhattan (tickets cost $2.50!). Nor are they old enough to have seen it when it moved uptown to Broadway's Biltmore Theatre for 1,742 performances with early Tribe members played by Heather MacRae, Melba Moore, Keith Carradine, Joe Morton, Diane Keaton (as a waitress), as well as the show's librettist-lyricists. The same was true for many people at Barrington Stage's opening night performance. They appeared to be divided between those eager for a chance to see this slice of our cultural history that they only know through recordings, as well as those who were teens or parents of teens during those bra-burning, "no-no-we-won't go" days that seeded Hair.
Whether you're seventeen or seventy, you'll probably agree that this latest incarnation of the musical with a plot as light as its rock score, is an authentic piece of musical Americana that captures the musical and political-philosophical zeitgeist of a now grown-up generation. The songs may not all have quite the staying power of "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In" but then lyricist librettists Gerome Ragni & James Rado and composer Galt MacDermot aren't Rodgers and Hammerstein (who is?) and more often than not people think they remember a show's entire songbook when they can actually hum or sing only a few.
Both the big hits and the lesser known songs are in good hands at Barrington Stage. Director Castellino has assembled a group with powerful voices to play the most well-defined members of the Tribe. Dana Steer stands out as Claude, the headed for tragedy central character who speaks with a Beatles accent but actually comes from Flushing, Queens and introduces the much reprised "Manchester, England." Ryan Link also stands out as Claude's buddy Berger, as does Denise Summerford as Sheila. But it's almost unfair to single out anyone from this energetic, committed cast.
As artistic director Julianne Boyd explained at last Friday's opening, the model for this production is the popular New York Encores series that marked the first step in its long-running Broadway tenure for still playing revival of Chicago and which actually did its own version of Hair not too long ago, as did Reprise, the Los Angeles counterpart of this series. The Encores style has the actors in costumes, the flavor of the setting evoked with minimal staging with a place for the band right on stage. In this instance, Brian Prather uses three scaffolded units on wheels for the cast to position themselves on the shelves and the band is tucked into the middle section. A white cloth dropped down from the top level is very effectively used as a projection screen and for some snappy choreography (also by director Castellino). D. Benjamin Courtney's lighting is terrific. The band, not so incidentally, is outstanding and the Mahaiwe's acoustics superb -- and this should also be true when the show completes its run at Barrington's new home, the Berkshire Music Hall.
Though there are love triangles, friendships, and even death, Hair is basically less a plot-driven show than a musical rumination about celebrating life through free love during the turbulent 1960s. If it seems a bit too much like homogenized comfort food, that's less because it's dated than because this is basically what it always was. Yet Hair did cause much controversy and some violence when it went on the road. and with parents once again asked to send their children off to an unpopular war, uncomfortable parallels between then and now are inevitable, especially when you hear lines like the following:
"Why do I live? Why do I die?
Tell me why... Tell me where do I go?
Tell me why... Tell me where...
Tell me why... Tell me where...
Tell me why!"