Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by M.B. Rice, Fri., Aug. 9, 2002
HAIR: Present Imperfect
Zachary Scott Theatre Center Kleberg Stage,
through September 1
Running time: 2 hrs, 30 min
Musicals often succeed in capturing the spirit of the time about which they were written. The early 1900s had Ziegfeld's Follies; the Forties had wartime-themed productions, such as Irving Berlin's This Is the Army; and the Nineties had Rent. Whatever else these shows fail to achieve, they manage to encapsulate the look, sound, and feel of an era through their music and stories.
So it is with HAIR, written in 1967 by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. While the show is no Hamlet in its depth, music is so central to the piece that its story's thin thread seems unimportant. The show is more like a tribute to the hippie lifestyle in revue form than a traditional book-and-lyric musical, consisting largely of songs celebrating feel-good drugs, freedom, brotherhood, and love. The Zachary Scott Theatre Center has chosen to produce this paean to Sixties "American tribal love" in its present season. But with a musical so deeply tied to its time, questions arise about its relevance. Is it important as more than an artifact of a time past? Can it, in production, be made relevant to today's audience -- as director Dave Steakley believes?
Steakley has assembled knockout performers for this production, each with a unique physical appearance and all with explosive singing voices, dance ability, and stage presence. The collective effect of this culturally diverse casting, along with Steakley's skill at synthesizing individual energies onstage into an electrifying whole, is a "tribe" that visually and aurally expresses the values of unity at the heart of this piece. Many of the musical numbers in this production are nothing short of celebratory, combining the actors' stellar voices with choreography (by Steakley and Lisa Holmstrom) that's tight in the midst of the drug-induced haze of HAIR's world.
The performers who step out of the ensemble are stellar, too. Charles Hagerty hits a bull's-eye as Claude, the mixed-up dropout torn between the draw of hippie life and his perceived responsibilities to his country. Lisa Hugo's megawatt voice soars in favorites like "Easy to be Hard" (beautifully arranged in this production) and "Good Morning Starshine." Q. Smith's vocals vibrate with earthy resonance from the very first line she sings, and Quincy Kuykendall and Frank Lawson Jr. rock hard as Hud and Berger in numbers like "Colored Spade," "Donna," and "Going Down." This cast, along with Jason Amato's phenomenally trippy lighting effects and Allen Robertson's excellent band, give HAIR its shine.
But the director's valiant efforts to make the show's scope inclusive of our modern world fall short. He attempts to add a modern context through costumes (there are punks and a Cyndi Lauper look-alike in the tribe) and direct references to Sept. 11, but these additions are anachronistic and jarring within the time-bound world of the existing piece. HAIR doesn't hold up well outside of its era; its book and songs are too inextricably linked to the political events and hippie lifestyle of the Sixties. Although it's easy to appreciate Steakley's attempts to pull HAIR into the present with his production, it belongs where it was set in the first place: in a decade of a century that's past, but not forgotten.