The 1960s was a decade of civil rights marches, anti-war protests and greater intimacy, and “Hair” was the show.
Admittedly thin on plot, but rich in evocative and witty songs, this taboo-defying musical pushed the theatrical envelope with songs embracing black-white relationships, Vietnam war draft-dodging, environmentalism, sexual freedom and even nudity. Daring for its time, “Hair” still resonates four decades later in an America where President Barack Obama’s citizenship is still questioned and many politicians spend more time trying to legislate morality than create new jobs.
“Hair” calls on its characters and the actors who play them to become as comfortable with each other as members of a Native American tribe. In the bare bones plotting of the show, all of the members of the tribe — African American and white, male and female, religious and non-religious — often huddle and move together in common purpose against the Vietnam War and in favor of making love and sharing drugs.
If some of the characters seem narcissistic and irresponsible on a personal level, they nevertheless are willing to take strong public stands about racism and war in a way that is rarely matched by many of their young counterparts today.
Even in the musical, once straight-laced Claude, called up by the draft, struggles to decide whether to burn his draft card, dodge the draft in Canda or serve in the Vietnam War. Besides flamboyant maverick Berger’s being kicked out of school, Claude’s moment of truth and what happens at the end of the show are the only actual plot details in a musical that is more of an arresting experience than a structured work. That ending is very powerful indeed at the Colonial Theatre.
Diane Paulus stages the experience with such brilliant blocking and total theater involvement that even the most demanding theatergoers are not likely to care. Throughout the two-act musical, cast members — individually and in groups — circulate, dance and frolic through the aisles and even in some rows. They play with audience members’ hair, hug them and even sit in some laps. Steel Burkhardt, an exuberant standout as Claude’s best friend Berger, even asks a theatergoer to hold his pants early on when the uninhibited character struts around in his briefs.
As the audience becomes an extension of the tribe, cast members also explore the boxed seats and eventually invite adventurous audience members to dance on stage. After seeing cast members cavorting smartly in Karole Armitage’s inspired choreography, that on-stage participation is a no-brainer.
While Paris Remillard, who sings the exultant “I Got Life” with remarkable resonance and captures Claude’s vulnerability as well as his courage, is as compelling as Burkhardt, supporting players have their own strong moments. Phyre Hawkins as Dionne, delivers the opening “Aquarius” with an excitingly booming voice. Darius Nichols, who plays black militant Hud, brings properly sharp attitude to “Colored Spade,” a clever put-down of racial epithets and bigotry.
Kacie Sheik has the right likeability as pregnant Jeanie, who adores Claude (not the father), though Caren Lyn Tackett needs to be less acerbic as principled war protester Sheila. Two group numbers, “Black Boys” and “White Boys,” sung in a kind of thematic pair, endorse miscegenation with humor and rich harmony.
No matter what the style or length of your hair — Afro, curly, even balding — hurry to the Colonial. “Hair” twinkles all over the theater, and the planet is at peace for two blissful hours.
"Best of Both Worlds" is a new family musical that features the sounds of both R&B and gospel in a holiday special designed to revisit Shakespearean characters and universal themes of love and jealousy, faith and forgiveness.
The show, presented by the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), features lyrics by Randy Weiner, music by multiple Obie-winner Diedre Murray, and is directed by Tony-nominated Diane Paulus (Director of "Hair" - Tony Winner: Best Musical Revival 2009).
The best productions and performances of any given year can be a barometer for the health of local theater. The same goes for the diversity of plays and players. Considering the quality and variety of the finest area work during the last 12 months, 2010 was a good year.
Lydia R. Diamond, already acclaimed for her adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel "The Bluest Eye" established herself as an important Hub playwright with her visceral family drama "Stick Fly," premiered with real heart by Huntington Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts.
"Hairspray" is a big production. Since its 2002 Broadway debut, the stage adaptation of John Waters' 1988 cult classic film has showcased big hair and big musical numbers, drawn big audiences and won big awards, all while dealing with big subjects and conveying an even bigger message.
The touring version of the musical, coming to Boston's Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre tomorrow, features two dynamic black lead actors: Donell James Foreman, starring in his first major production in the role of Seaweed J. Stubbs, and Angela Birchett, playing Motormouth Maybelle, whose first stint on a touring show came as a teenager.