48 YEARS LATER AND THE SUN STILL SHINES STRONG IN “HAIR’ THE LOVE CHILD THAT BROKE BROADWAY BOUNDARIES.
The sun shines proud in the San Francisco Mission this early spring as the classic rock musical that changed Broadway “HAIR The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”, takes stage at the Victoria Theatre through March 12th. Directed by award winning Jon Tracy, who has assembled a noteworthy cast of 12 players to bring back the 60’s to San Francisco. This marks the second musical for the new Bay Area Musicals company, headed by Matthew McCoy, founder and artistic director. McCoy wanted a game changer for his second round. “We don’t have giant peace signs everywhere, we’re not passing out flowers, it’s really about the context of the story and the journey of continuing to break this norm,” said McCoy, “Every generation, we feel like this is the norm. And then this generation from Hair said, okay, if this is the norm what is the next norm?.” Tracy brings a more street version, minimalist feel to this version, and it works.
The original 1968 Tony Award-winning musical created by Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York shocked audiences with its nudity, lifelike portrayals of sex and drug use, and striking challenges to racism and the Vietnam War. Now 48 years have passed since that summer of love, and it is more “Black Lives Matter” than gasping when we hear young white girls sing, “black boys are delicious,” but we are still touched when a naive Crissy sings about the boy she met outside the Waverly Theater: “I don’t want the two dollars back, just him.”
The one jarring note is the dislike toward a soldier in uniform, a Vietnam era emotion that keeps our lost hero Claude as the rebel in search of a cause. When I first saw this tribe, it was 1969 at the Geary stage in San Francisco; it changed the way I looked at theatre. Live animals on stage, no real story but a group of musty actors following no rules. I was not happy with the chaos but I returned to see that musical four times that summer.
The Victoria stage in the historic San Francisco Mission is the perfect space and mood for this musical. The life around 16th and Mission and that homie jammed BART station is a scene from any clip from HAIR. I am certain Tracy took advantage of that mood as he also designed the set - keeping it simple, yet hiding a symbol on stage with a curtain of wood that is clearly a broken peace sign. This version of the tribe sets a clear tone; for this millennial generation all lives matter.
HAIR is an ensemble piece, and it takes strong voices as well as agile bodies to pull it off. The cast is smaller and is in constant motion, and there are excellent moments as some of the members add to the score with drums on stage. This company, lead by Jeffrey Brian Adams as Claude and Jepoy Ramos as Berger, is sterling. Ramos is particularly effective with his warm greetings to the sold out press night crowd and his opening number “Donna”, and later "Going Down" he has a superb voice. The company brings the iconic “Aquarius” opening number featuring the stunning voice of Katrina McGraw to a darker side as Tracy works his Tribe playing some of the instruments and drums.
Adams has one of the strongest voices in the tribe and his "Manchester England" Claude tells his story. Sheila who is in love with both men, is played by local favorite Ally Reardon who sings “Easy To Be Hard” and brings a new charm to the song. All three actors sing first rate and for that matter the entire tribe is impressive. The sound system wasn’t as sharp, but the talented cast easily overcame the technical issues. I remember since this was one of the first official “Rock” musicals produced on Broadway and the West End, the actors of that era were tangled in mic cords. Hand microphones are long gone, but the hair is still tossed so is some of the sound.
McCoy’s choreography can be a bit predictable, yet his use of group circles and the pace is vigorous. The chaotic psychedelic romp at times always becomes the “Be - In” number that leads into the close of the first act “Where Do I Go” and the clothes drop off and the company disappears into the wings. The nude moment in the show has always been the talk, and this production designed that nudity theme into their marketing effectively, but as with all the productions I have seen of HAIR it is just a brief moment in the show. Many of the songs have become classics over the years including “Good Morning Sunshine”, “Three-Five-Zero-Zero” and “Let the Sun Shine In”.
Grace Ng, Andrienne Walters, Katrina McGraw, Tierra Allen, and Indiia Wilmott are the spirited women in the tribe that fill the Victoria with energy and "Walking In Space" is a highlight. Since women's lib doesn’t kick in until the 70’s, Gerome Ragni and James Rado original script has never been female friendly, yet Allen, McGraw, and Wilmott bring an important vibe to “White Boys” number. The male cast, Rotimi Agbabiaka, Ben Nguyen, and David Glazer are exceptional in many numbers including “What a Piece of Work”.
Gay issues are also very low end in the original show, yet Tracy brings the mood of ambiguous sexual characters with Margaret Mead and Hubert played by campy Peter Dakota Molof, whose perfect zophtic tone keeps you questioning. Woof played by the capable Ben Nguyen, has always had the hots for Claude, "Sodomy" – Woof /Claude shine and these boys could wake up the Castro.
Music Director Jon Gallo has his rocking four piece on stage band, including Eric Lawson, Elan Sedah and Kevin Smith styled in the correct wigs and Pasquale Spezzano’s costumes. The color scheme of the cast is not typical Hippie wear; Spezzano keeps the brightness down, and the standard tie dye Peace Symbol flower power look, is more industrial/street/punk and simple except for the highlights of the leads look. Tracy keeps that streamlined and focused on the cast. This definitely is a darker HAIR shadowing a more lost boy homeless feel. Tracy’s lighting design takes on its own deep character with pools of light and mood in “What A Piece Of Work Is Man”, and sound designer Nicholas Rieker mix of the Viet Nam showdown is powerful and dramatic. The time line breaks for a moment when Molof opens a moment of the show for an Instagram moment, a bit distracting yet very funny and the sold out crowd was pleased.
The rainbow cast is a more serious take on a young man's fear of dying in a no end war, it has more meaning with Millennials. HAIR has reincarnated into other Broadway shows that changed the trend RENT and AMERICAN IDIOT have been compared and I agree. This shoulder length HAIR group of peace and love is worth seeing especially if it's been some years since your last visit to the “Be In”. I could end with the classic “The Sunshine is at the Victoria” but I rather encourage you to take another look at HAIR The Musical, and enjoy the fact the SF Mission is the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical and always will be. Bay Area Musicals is as a company to watch, their next production is La Cage aux Folles set for July 9, 2016.
BAY AREA MUSICALS
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert
Director by JON TRACY
Choreographer MATTHEW MCCOY
Musical Director JON GALLO
2961 16TH STREET, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94103
Tickets range from $25 to $60, and are available at (415) 340-2207
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Photos by Ben Krantz
Matthew McCoy interview courtesy of http://missionlocal.org/