‘Hair’ at Laurel Mill Playhouse by Amanda Gunther

FOUR STARS
Beads! Flowers! Freedom! Happiness! Get in line to burn your draft card at the “be-in” so you can make love not war! It’s an all out love festival as the Laurel Mill Playhouse presents the iconic hippy musical Hair. Directed by Michael V. Hartsfield with Musical Direction by Alice Laurissa, this groovy production will take you on a trip back to the ‘60s and have you feeling ‘oh so mellow’ before the night is over.

 Margaret Mead (David Hale) Hud (Terrence Bennett) and Hubert (Jose Pineda). Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Margaret Mead (David Hale) Hud (Terrence Bennett), and Hubert (Jose Pineda). Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.

The atmosphere is alive with the gentle vibrations of the inner psyche; a buzz of calm and wavy energy palpable in the air from the moment you first see the set. Director Michael V. Hartsfield doubles as the show’s Set Designer, welcoming the audience with an enormous day-glow sunshine painted across the back of the stage. The center of the sun is a free-flowing opening to allow the cast on and off the stage in a fluid manner, while serving the dual purpose of shielding “The Love Pit” (where the band is nestled in for the night) with some trippy yellow bead-curtains. The artsy graffiti on the walls reminds you of all the peace-loving slogans of the era, really bringing you into the revolutionary feeling of the show.

Costumes come from the collective mind, or in this case the collective cast, lead by inspirations from Kat McKerrow. There are plenty of love beads to go around and groovy round glasses; peace signs and the fuzzy fur vests are all the rage in this production. And you won’t find more bell bottoms anywhere else in Laurel this time of year. Keep your eyes peeled for some really unique choices when it comes to looking the part in this show.

Director Michael V. Hartsfield really creates a ‘love-in’ feeling among the cast, there’s never a moment where they all individually don’t feel as if they are part of some larger collective. There is a frenetic pulse about them during the more upbeat numbers; a current that flows through them and makes them one big hippy protesting all the wrongs in the world. Hartsfield tempers this spastic energy with a much groovier mellow sensation during numbers like “Walking in Space” where the whole dynamic of the group energy shifts into this languid smooth essence of calm. It’s a really spacey transition to experience but it keeps you going with the musical as it happens.

Musical Director Alice Laurissa is a great pit conductor and makes good use of her talents on the keyboard. It’s nice having an actual live pit band backing up these fun and funky songs; gives a more authentic feel to the production as a whole. Laurissa, however, has some issues with her cast’s ability to find the correct pitches and project them. There are numbers in my performance, particularly those that feature trios or quartets where the harmonies were all over the place and out of tune. However, it wasn’t noticeable in fuller ensemble numbers like “Let The Sunshine In” or “Three-Five-Zero-Zero,” where the powerful ensemble manages to blend their sounds into one another more readily.

But what the cast lacks in ability to have good intonation they make up for in acting. Both Hud (Terrence Bennett) and Woof (Brook Urquhart) pump every emotion they possess into their body language and facial expressions to compensate. Bennett really rocks the solo “Colored Spade” and shakes things up with his body for “Black Boys.” Urquhart howls like an actual wolf and its pretty amusing. Both of these actors shake their groove thing in the ensemble numbers and are exuding sexual attraction to anyone who’s looking.

Shelia (Teresa Pipito) has a crisp clean and properly tuned sound even if it is difficult to hear her during “I Believe In Love.” Pipito comes into her own by the time “Good Morning Starshine” rolls around and her revolutionary spirit is soaring miles above the rest in the crowd. The same is said for Jeanie (Kat McKerrow). With star-struck eyes over Claude, McKerrow brings a vivacious presence to her off-beat character, especially during “Air.” And while she like every other member of the cast, struggles with being heard over the live band, her zany facial expressions and physical commitment to the character’s choices makes up for it. Both McKerrow and Pipito are easy to spot in the ensemble numbers and are a lot of fun to just follow as they groove their way through the show.

Jeanie (Kat McKerrow). Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Jeanie (Kat McKerrow). Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.

There are, however, three voices that really take the lead here at the hippy love-in. Dionne (Felicia Akunwafor) Ronny (Avia Fields) and Alice (Jenifer Hollett) are the trio that brings the thunder when they sing. Fields is charged the dutiful task of carrying the haunting melody during the opening number “Aquarius.” And she does so with a soul-sought sound that nearly brings the house down. We hear her blissful voice echoed again during “What a Piece of Work Man Is,” and it really captivates the audience’s ear.

Hollett is featured as an ensemble member with a few solo lines punctuated throughout the production. You can hear her most clearly, belting at the top of her lungs, during “Dead End,” and again during “Black Boys,” where she lends her jazzy power to the fun up-tempo number. Akunwafor, as Dionne is featured throughout the production and she has the most powerful voice of the three. Really bringing the house down during “Walking In Space,” he mellow voice packed full of sound really grounds you in that spacey trip. The trio is impressive to say the least and are a great addition to the production.

What good is having a hippy trip if you don’t have someone to guide you, and in this case that’s Berger (Paul D. Grodt). Grodt has a charming if quirky personality that is well suited for all of the audience interaction that he infuses into the show. Songs like “Donna” and “Going Down” are his moment in the sunshine and he doesn’t disappoint because of all the enthusiasm he puts into his character.

Claude (Charles Freeman) is a true gem in this mix of hippy culture. His voice has a classical sound to it, despite being a bit harsh as he approaches the higher octaves in certain songs; and it is powerful. While his phony English accent may be a bit more off than expected, Freeman is deeply rooted in his character and his emotions are pure, particularly his confusion over where he will go once he makes a decision. His best number by far is “I Got Life” where he really gives it everything he’s got and seeing him give himself over so fully to this number is not in the least disappointing.

Watch out for show stealer Margaret Mead (David Hale). The shenanigans that precede his number “My Conviction” are uproarious; a good healthy dose of comic relief. Hale’s song performance and overall existence in the confusing character is amazing, well worthy of note. He can be seen and heard as ‘Leaf’ throughout the production and keep your eye out during “Abie, Baby” where he shows up as the flamboyant and slightly aloof Booth.

So grab your beads, get ready for hugs and head down to Laurel Mill Playhouse, you don’t want to miss the love-in!

Ronny (Avia Fields) and the cast of 'Hair.' Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Ronny (Avia Fields) and the cast of ‘Hair.’ Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Running Time: Approximately Two hours, with one intermission.

Hair plays through June 9, 2013 with no performances Memorial Day Weekend at  Laurel Mill Playhouse— 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For reservations call the box office at (301) 617-9906.

 

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