“Psychedelic!” might be the only word that appropriately describes the electrifying rock musical Hair rocking The Keegan Theatre last night. With brilliant direction by Susan Marie Rhea and Mark A. Rhea, music direction by Jake Null, and choreography by Rachel Leigh Dolan, this interpretation of Hair in the intimate Keegan Theatre is an experience you won’t want to miss.
Billed as the “granddaddy of all rock musicals,” Hair doesn’t disappoint. Telling the story of youth in a tumultuous 1960s America throughout the tribulations and uncertainty of the Vietnam War, Hair features a score that exuberantly captures the confusion of young adulthood, the search for peace, truth, and love amidst a confusing backdrop of conflict, conservative cultural norms, and societal obligations. Adequately described as “at once both a joyous celebration of youth and a poignant journey through America,” Hair seems ever the more relevant even many decades after it was written—highlighting common generational struggles that translate well onto the modern stage.
With book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragini and music by Galt MacDermot, Hair has become somewhat of a beacon of cultural iconography in the anti-Vietnam War peace movement, coinciding with the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s. With an off-Broadway run in 1967, a Broadway run in 1969, and Broadway revivals in 1977 and 2009, Hair’s notoriety in musical theatre circles is punctuated by the prevalence of nudity, illicit drug use, and sexual innuendo(and, accordingly, is intended for audiences above the age of 14).
Hair features an extensive set-list with more than thirty toe-tapping numbers. Without divulging too much of the plot, almost every member of the diverse and multicultural cast (led by Paul Scanlan and Josh Sticklin and including Danny Bertaux, Autumn Seavey, Caroline Wolfson, Chad Fornwalt, Christian Montgomery, Dani Stoller, Darius Epps, Eben Logan, Emily Levey, Ian Coleman, Ines Nassara, Jade Jones, Jamie Boyle, Katie Furtado, Kedren Spencer, Lyndsay Rini, Paige Felix, Ryan Patrick Welsh, Thony Mena, and Peter Finnegan) is afforded an opportunity to share a solo—oftentimes an entire song—which allows for each voice of the ensemble to truly shine through.
The opening song “Aquarius” set the mood for the evening, featuring Ines Nassara as Ronny, delivering a powerful, chilling belt that brought me goosebumps. Her vibrato—sharp and strong—towered over the harmonies of the chorus, creating a lush, vocal richness, amplified by the intimate space of The Keegan Theatre.
Josh Sticklin (Berger) continued the opening sequence running through the aisles of the theatre as a crazed, irreverent free spirit, performing the love-rock song “Donna” with a stage presence and confidence that put the entire audience on the edges of their seats. Leading the WAPPO tribe in turn, various members of the tribe proceed to share their stories and experiences during the war, featuring a colorful assortment of songs ranging from satires of environmentalism (“Air”), racial inequities (“I’m Black”), and sex (“Sodomy”). What ensues is a raucous, good time—underscored by various forms of social commentary about 1960s American society. The first act culminates in the notorious and controversial nude scene in which the entire ensemble strips nude after a protest in which the men burn their Vietnam War draft cards. Claude’s (Paul Scanlan) solo in “Where Do I Go?” is a rare, tender moment in the musical in which we are able to enjoy his voice with only minor accompaniment.
Not only is the subject matter and the performance cutting-edge, but so too are Matthew Keenan’s scenic design, Chelsey Schuller’s costume design, and Allan Sean Weeks’ lighting design. With a two-tiered stage with stairs on each side of the stage, The Keegan Theatre resembles somewhat of an antique, hippie thrift shop—decorated liberally with peace signs and various tapestries and memorabilia of the era. The costumes similarly evoke this theme, with bare-chested hippie men with long-draping hair prancing about to evoke a sense of freedom and carefreeness.
With smoke permeating the tight, enclosed space of The Keegan Theatre made to emulate smoke from drug use, the lighting design—coordinated perfectly in time to capture the tenacity and vivaciousness of hippie culture—is accentuated; thereby, creating a fully sensuous experience that complements the live orchestra. Under the musical direction of Jake Null, the eight piece orchestra situated to the rear of the stage features woodwinds (Dana Gardner), Guitar (Jaime Ibacache and Mike Kozemchak), Bass (Jason Wilson), Percussion (Walter McCoy), Drums (Alex Aucoin), and trumpets (Paul Weiss and Brian Morton) that complement the textured sound of the almost thirty-person ensemble without becoming overpowering.
Featuring some of the finest young talent in the area, The Keegan Theatre’s Hair-raising production is quite the spectacle! It might even awaken the WAPPO in you!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
**Due to language and nudity, Hair is recommended for mature audiences. Children under the ages of 14 will not be permitted in the theatre.