Hart House Theatre and Director Julie Tomaino collaborate to bring you their peace-loving production of the rock musical Hair on the eve of its 50th Anniversary. When the musical first hit theatres in the 1960’s, audiences were shocked by its display of nudity and homosexuality. The mass shunning led critics to label it as ahead of its time and unbeknownst to its creators, several of its songs went on to become anthems for the anti-Vietnam peace movement. This new production presents itself in similar fashion, a time of social justice movements and political unrest. The play tries hard to force audiences to buy into its hippie culture and more or less succeeds.
Hair tells the story of a tribe of likeminded hippies who struggle to stamp their individuality and ideas of freedom in the face of an oppressive government that has started a war in Vietnam. The group consists of free-spirited George Berger (Andrew Perry) who introduces himself as a “teddy bear,” Claude Hooper (Christian Hodge) an idealist with disapproving parents, Sheila (Marisa Dashney) an NYU student and determined political activist, and a host of several other characters. The long haired hippies’ bohemian lifestyles get uprooted when one of their own, Claud gets conscripted to serve in Vietnam. Claude must ultimately decide whether to refuse the call and face disappointing his parents or serve and risk losing his life and more importantly his principles.
Tomaino describes the play as, “Dense, relevant and non-linear.” In the director’s notes, she says, “Hair will challenge you—allow us to take you on a trip to another time and place where your reality is altered, and nothing makes sense. Until it does. Allow us to make you part of our community.”
Act I begins with introducing the audience to the strange-psychedelic world of the tribe through the opening song of Aquarius where tribe members serenade the crowd with the famous chorus. Songs from the original play such as “Sodomy,” “I’m Black/Ain’t Got No,” and even the titular song “Hair” are on display throughout the act. The act finishes as we see Claud burning his draft letter, only to change his mind later and pull it out of the fire. The tribe then emerges naked singing “Where Do I Go?”
I personally enjoyed the performance of Kevin James Doe as he embodied the whimsical personalities of Margaret Mead, Principal and Ronny. By the end of Act II, Claude undergoes a hallucinogenic trip filled with cameos of historical figures: Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, George Washington, etc., who helps him decide. While the rest of the tribe is busy at protest, Claude appears in military uniform and a buzz cut signifying his detachment. It is at this point that one realizes that the hippies’ long hair was a symbol of their defiance, hence the title of the play. The final song has a groovy buzz to it and the audience is invited to join in the closing number.
With its themes of defiance and love, Hair essentially boils down to youth empowerment. A subject as relevant today as it was during the Vietnam War. Young people found themselves dying in an unpopular war and found their voice in activist movements. With the rise of social media and unfavorable political conditions in America and certain other parts of the world, people should be careful not to repeat the same mistake. The message is clear and timeless: for the youth to take control and share in joy and hope. With Canadian elections scheduled for early next year, the timing of the play is appropriate.
Hair runs at Hart House Theatre from January 18 to February 2.