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Hair

Little City fields a big, strong tribe for its go at the love-rock musical

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Sept. 2, 2011

Exibitionism

Hair

City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 524-2870
www.citytheatreaustin.org
Through Sept. 11
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

If you've never seen it before, Hair is a musical that can take you by surprise. What seems like a harmless romp full of street hippies doing their drug-induced thing goes a whole lot deeper in Act II. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, a tribe of kids out on their own is trying to take a stand against the war and pretty much everything their parents ever stood for. They also have some killer hippie hair, and they are not about to cut it any time soon.

City Theatre has created a very good production of the classic so-called "American tribal love-rock musical," with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot. Casting is almost everything, and with 21 roles to fill, it is notable that a relatively small theatre company has assembled a company of actors as consistent and strong as this one. Typically, at a non-Equity theatre, a cast that big includes at least a few stragglers who can't keep up with the leads, but this Hair has a great ensemble. In fact, there are enough strong players who create real characters that do more than mimic an acid trip that listing them here would take up the remaining space. Just grab a production program and read through the actors' bios instead.

So, is it a perfect musical production? Not completely; City's stage is mighty small for 21 actors plus a band, and director Jeff Hinkle had a tough job finding ways to focus the action with that many bodies onstage. In the end, he basically succeeds in setting a well-paced story in a tight space, but one is left literally wanting a bit more: more time, more money, more space for these artists to really achieve everything they set their collective tribal mind to.

It's a rough time to be producing Hair, of course, given the handful of recent high-profile revivals, including one now on Broadway. Comparisons with productions that draw on comparatively vast creative and financial resources will inevitably invite themselves. Stepping away from the standards of Broadway, however, one can appreciate just how good a job City Theatre has done. Lindsay McKenna's costume design contributes greatly to the show, and David Blackburn's musical direction is solid, taking several younger actors without much experience outside of undergraduate programs and helping nudge them to the next level. There are also a few truly awesome voices here, and I'm going back on my earlier promise not to name standouts because Michelle Alexander has some serious pipes that demand special mention.

Lovers of musical theatre – in particular those who don't mind a little respectful nudity – should certainly check out City's Hair. As the summer winds down, the show feels like a fitting cap to this season of big-cast musicals.

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