“HAiR’ THE LOVE CHILD THAT BROKE BROADWAY BOUNDARIES AND STILL CELEBRATES THE DAWNING OF THE AGE OF AQUARIUS
Earlier this theatre season in January HAiR celebrated its 50th anniversary marking its Off Broadway debut in October 1967 at Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre in New York. Then a run at the Cheetah nightclub in New York from December 1967 through January 1968. HAiR The Tribal Rock Musical then opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre in April, 1968. HAiR creators, James Rado and Galt MacDermot, attended the anniversary and shared personal stories with the audience. Their collaborator Gerome Ragni died in 1991. Special guests, included HAiR producer, Michael Butler who at 90 years old is now based out of Los Angeles.
The sun shines proud at the historic Great Star Theatre in the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown. Landmark Musical Theatre produces its third musical, the classic rock event that changed Broadway “HAiR The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”, takes stage through August 26th. This 50th anniversary of HAiR is directed by Jonathan Rosen, who also directed HAiR in 2007 for the 40th Anniversary in San Jose. Rosen now brings his third production for his company LMT, “This show which I am now directing for the third time. Is one of those shows with all of those magic moments. I can tell you that every time I have directed Hair something wonderful has happened in my life. Hair is an amazing piece of theatre that touches us all.” below Jonathan Rosen opens the preshow
The original producer of HAIR, Michael Butler, connected Rosen with some of the original members of the 1987 tribe. Choreographer Jennifer Lee Ho performed in the original production of HAiR in the role of Crissy, and also served as dance captain with several other companies of including the national touring companies. Jenny is now a busy dance instructor in San Mateo and is excited to be revisiting the material which she says changed her life. Director Rosen has assembled a noteworthy cast of 20 players to bring back the 60’s to San Francisco.
The original 1967 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. Two years later at the 1969 Tony Awards, Hair was nominated for Best Musical and Best Director but lost out to 1776 Musical in both categories. Now 50 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 naïve Crissy sings about the boy she met outside the Waverly Theater: “I don’t want the two dollars back, just him.”
The production ran for four years and 1,750 performances, closing on July 1, 1972. In 1968, productions began in cities across the United States including San Francisco and Europe followed shortly thereafter, including a successful London production opening September 1968. In 1979, a feature film adaptation was released. A Broadway revival opened in 2009, earning positive reviews and winning the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
When I first saw this tribe, it was 1969 at the Geary stage in San Francisco and 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. HAiR remains a class act in lyrics “We starve, look at one another, short of breath/ Walking proudly in our winter coats/ Wearing smells from laboratories/ Facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy/ Listening for the new told lies/ With supreme visions of lonely tunes."
HAIR is an ensemble piece, and it takes strong voices as well as agile bodies to pull it off. The cast is a mix of ages not just millennials and this show is in constant motion. Rosen has created a community feeling on the Great Star Stage and they are a tribe of love and family as some of the members add to the score with a flower child energy. This company, lead by the savvy Domonic Tracy as Claude and the capable David Erik Peterson as Berger, is terrific. Peterson is particularly effective with his warm greetings to the sold out weekend night crowd and his opening number “Donna”, he shows off his fine voice. The company brings the iconic “Aquarius” opening number a smooth acid feeling as Rosen works his Tribe, moving in a dream like state until the on stage band lead by John Hollis brings the celebration to the entire theatre.
Tracy has one of the clever voices in the tribe and his "Manchester England" Claude tells his story. Sheila who is in love with both men, is played by marvelous Corrie Farbstein who sings “I Believe In Love” and brings a new charm to the song. All three actors sing first rate and for that fact the entire tribe is impressive including solos from the brilliant Austin Yu who sings “What A Piece of Work is Man” with Brandon Brooks. The sound system designed by Lish Lash included hand mics as the original show used (minus the mic cords) the talented cast easily overcame that the chorus did not use mics but only their hip powerful voices. The signature tribe song “Hair” easily was full throttle with energy and Jennifer Lee Ho’s nostalgic choreography highlighted the power voices of the cast.
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 back and fit this classic look of this icon musical. Lee Ho’s choreography is eye catching, and her use of group circles keeps the pace 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 under that red parachute and the company disappears into the wings. The nude moment in the show has always been the buzz of this show, and this production designed that nudity theme as the perfect fit to end the moving first act. But as with all the productions I have seen of HAiR it is just a brief moment in the musical. Many of the songs have become classics over the years including “Good Morning Sunshine”, “Three-Five-Zero-Zero” and “Don’t Put it Down”.
The story is minimal but the Vietnam War and the draft are still the key points in the over 32 songs that lead to “Let The Sunshine In”. Alysia Beltran, Jackie Bonsignore, Marla Cox, Isa Musni, Danni Horwitz, Raquel Earle, Samantha Raslert, and Ana Hansen are the spirited women in the tribe that fill the Chinatown venue with energy and "Initials (L.B.J.)" is a high a highlight of the two and half hour show. Since women's lib doesn’t kick in til the 70’s, Gerome Ragni’s and James Rado’s original script has never been female friendly, yet Marla, Isa and Raquel bring an important vibe to the“White Boys” number. The male cast, Anthony Maglio, Earle Alfred Paus, Edgardo J Peña, Dave J abrams, John Charles Quimpo, and Austin Yu are explosive in “Walking in Space”, Going Down” “Eyes Look Your Last” and other show stopping tribe songs.
Gay issues are also very low end in the original show, yet Rosen brings the mood of ambiguous sexual characters with Margaret Mead and Hubert played by campy John Charles Quimpo and Ana Hansen whose perfect camp tone keeps you questioning. Woof, played by the capable adorable Pablo Soriano, has always had the hots for Claude, "Don't Put It Down" – Berger and Woof shine and the two boys could wake up the Castro. Music Director Jon Hollis has his rocking ten piece band that keeps the stage busy and adds to that family feel as the band members join the cast for a few of the numbers.
Production manager, Richard Gutierrez, styled the costumes and wigs for the company. The color scheme of the cast is your typical Hippie tie dye wear, Gutierrez keeps the brightness at 1960’s flower children, and the standard Peace Symbol power look, is more festive and simple except for the highlights of the leads look.
This is a colorful acid HAiR shadowing a more “Good Morning Starshine” feel and Nicole Faghihi vocal direction brings the 30 member cast a superb sound. Rosen wears many hats including the lighting and set design and it takes on its own character with pools of light and mood in “Electric Blues”. His set includes a platform that many of the main dance numbers work around. Prop master Taurean Feaster brings all the right ribbons, necklaces and upside down American Flags to add that rich 60's feel to the show. Sound designer Lish Lash’s mix of the Viet Nam showdown is powerful and dramatic. The sold out crowd sang along with some of the classic HAIR numbers.
The rainbow cast is more serious as we see a young man’s fear of dying in a no end war; it has more meaning with millennials. This shoulder length HAiR group of peace and love is worth seeing especially if it has been some years since your last visit to the “Be In”. HAiR has reincarnated into other Broadway shows that changed the trend, RENT and AMERICAN IDIOT have been compared and I agree. I could end with the classic “Drop some acid, burn some green and find your Tye Die” but I rather encourage you to take another look at HAiR The Musical, and enjoy the fact that San Francisco has always been the heart of this American Tribal Love-Rock Musical and always will.
LANDMARK MUSICAL THEATRE
THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert
Directed by Jonathan Rosen
Choreographer Jennifer Lee Ho
Musical Director John Hollis
MUST CLOSE AUGUST 26th
The Historic Great Star Theatre
636 Jackson Street
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94103
Running Time two and a half hours with one intermission
Some photo's by Steve Enzer, Vince Mediaa and others (Thank you Jeff Ramos)
The Black and white captures below are credited to Steve Enzer