Back in June 2001, I saw the Reprise production of Hair. This production starred Sam Harris (Claude), Steven Weber (Berger), Rod Keller (Woof), Allan Louis (Hud), Jennifer Leigh Warren (Sheila), and Marissa Jaret Winokur (Joanie), with a cast of about 17 more. The show was at the Wadsworth Theatre. I want you to notice a few things about this production: (1) It was before 9/11 and the “War on Terrorism”; (2) most of the leads in the show were well over 30 years old; and (3) it was held on the campus of the Veterans Administration.
Last night, I saw Hair for a second time; this time at a proper venue (CSUN); with a proper cast (college students); and in a proper context (post 9/11). This was Hair done right. It starred a large collection of college students (30), who obviously were more than just “actors”: they were in to this musical and what does it say? (and what is that, you ask). The message of Hair is really two fold: the power of love, and the horror of war. It is a message that resonates extremely strongly today.
This production of Hair (the “Waabi Kiizis Tribe“1 — yes, they have a myspace page) starred Kevin Ellis as Berger, Chris Chase as Woof, Marcel Hill as Hud, Erik Roget as Claude, either Tillie Spencer or Bonnie Sludikoff as Jeanie, Ana Therese Lopez as Dionne, Molly Orr as Crissy, Emily Belgard as Sheila, Daniel Mahler as M. Mead, Patrick Ryan as Hubert, and Sarah Modelowitz Walsh as Ronny. Others in the tribe were Katie Ashley, Brandon Baciocco, Elliott Barker, James Bingham III, Verity Branco, Aubrey Canfield, Deverau Chumrau, Ana Galang, Pippa Greene, John Paul Jones, Stephanie Jones, Kiki Kusama, Shari Lucas, Jeff Nichols, Talia Sarah Savren, Milo Shearer, Carlie Sonenschein, Sammi Wallschlaeger, and Mary Grace Wilson. It was directed by Garry Lennon, with musical direction by Paul Taylor and Cheoeography by Christine Chrest. I’ll note that most of the cast has Myspace profiles,2 as befits this generation (and as I result, I created one too (use my LJ name), but mine just points back to LJ).
For those unfamiliar with the story, there isn’t one, or there is. Hair is a rough musical. The basic plot is the story of Claude, who just had his induction physical for the Vietnam draft, and is about to go into the Army. The first half, however, is more getting to know the tribe and their relationships; the second half (which was extremely powerful) is a hallucination about the war. Along the way there is love, some nudity (although quite tastefully done), more love, war protests, drugs, more love, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, more love, some starshine, and a wild trip. For those unfamiliar with the 1960s (alas, I was the next generation), this recreates it.
So how did this cast do? Extremely, extremely well. You could see on there faces that this was more than an acting job: this had meaning and depth to them (which is something I don’t recall about the Reprise! cast). I had a really fun time watching the faces and the movement of the entire cast. It was riviting how much they were into this show. Perhaps it was the fact that this show echos what is happening today in Iraq. More on that later.
Was it a perfect show? No. This is a theatre school, and there were a few problems, mostly technical (i.e., sound). But the raw talent of this cast more than made up for that–these young actors and the talented crew behind them are going to go far. I look forward to seeing them in the future on the stages of Cabrillo, the Pasadena Playhouse, the Ahmanson and Pantages, and on Broadway.
We took our 11 year old daughter (NSS&F) to the show with us. She was worried about the nude scene, but they did it very tactfully (it occurs during the song Where Do I Go?). You really couldn’t see anything3. I think the sex portions just passed her by, but the anti-war message of the show came through loud and clear. She told us afterwards that she was extremely glad that she went; it gave her understanding of that generation.
As to the anti-war message. The CSUN Theatre and Art Departments made the relevance to today clear. In the lobby were displays of various current incidents, including the Iraqi war, immigration issues, terrorism issues. Little dioramas that depicted scenes of topical relevance. Made with Peeps. Yup. Bunnies, Rabbits, Chicks. Additionally, during the hallucination sequence, not only were Vietnamese being killed by the soldiers, but Iraqis, Buddhist Monks, Koreans, Japanese, Germans, and Native Americans as well.
Tonight (5/14) is the last night of the show; if you can get tickets, go see it. It was great.
What’s next on the theatre calendar? Don’t Dress for Dinner at the Rep East Playhouse in Newhall at the end of the month, and Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure at the Pasadena Playhouse in early June. Rep East will also be doing Shakespeare in the Park: Hamlet in June. I’m still keeping my eyes open for tickets to Curtains at the Ahmanson; I’ll grab them as soon as I see them on Goldstar.
1 According to the tribe, Waabi Kiizis is Algonquin for “See the Sun” or “See Sun.” This name was chosen because it not only exemplifies Cal State University Northridge (“C”SUN), but it embodies the desire to “Let The Sun Shine IN!”
2 I attempted to traceback all the MySpace profiles for the cast. If I missed one, or got one wrong, please let me know and I’ll fix it.
3 Which in some ways is too bad, because the cast was extremely attractive :-).