Sunday, August 28, 2011

Upholding Tradition of Protest, Song in Latest 'Hair' Do

Dionne (Phyre Hawkins) and the rest of The Tribe in the latest production of "Hair." Photos by Joan Marcus.


off to the producers (The Public Theater with associate producers Jenny Gersten, S.D. Wagner, and John Johnson) for bringing the road company of the 2009 Tony-winning musical, “Hair, back for a short summer season.

“Hair,” subtitled “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” is at the St. James Theatre through 10 Sept. It is of and about the struggle against war and personal oppression, a struggle waged mostly by disenfranchised youth in the 1960s.

An anti-war protest musical, “Hair” is a living and breathing icon. Gerome Ragni, James Rado (book and lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music) capture the times and they are brought to life on the stage in this immersive production directed by Diane Paulus. Karole Armitage’s choreography has the young actors crawling over the seats and running up and down the aisles.

Using a cast of relative unknowns gives “Hair” back its virginity. The street kids of “The Tribe” are still in high school or would be if they hadn’t run away or been expelled. This is a touring production of “Hair,” which stops at Dallas, Denver, West Palm Beach and several other cities before ending its run in Toronto in April 2012.(See video at

Despite its historic context, there is nothing coy in the setting of “Hair” and no plea that the audience understand that this is a period piece other than the costuming. Of course when “Hair” was first produced, off-Broadway in October 1967 and then on Broadway in April 1968, it was in and of the period. Fifty years ago in many corners, the debate over the Vietnam War and the Great Society’s ills devolved into one about appearances. “Hair” was a kind of shorthand for what addled the old folks about kids marching for justice and peace.

Paris Remillard as Claude and Steel Burkhardt as Berger with other members of the cast of "Hair."

The songs, most famously “Aquarius” and “Where Do I Go,” are tuneful and memorable, delivering their point with intelligence and humor.

In “Hair,” tie-dyed and drug-addled hippies burn draft cards, stage sit-ins and indulge in free love. Sheila (Caren Lyn Tackett) loves Berger (Steel Burkhardt) and Claude (Paris Remillard) loves Sheila, while Jeanie (Kacie Sheik) is in love with Claude. However, “Hair” is also about the freedom to love and the other great ‘60s social revolution.

While satirizing the racial divide, the original “Hair” put its money where its mouth was by casting black actors as leads in the ensemble. This was revolutionary and new to the stage since blacks were routinely cast as menials. Hud (Darius Nichols), sporting a huge afro that adds several inches to his already tall and lanky frame, provides reminders that the protests are not just against a war, but for civil rights as well.

As serious as its purpose is, “Hair” still has a lively and entertaining way of delivering a message that bears repeating. It remains relevant and it’s still a street party.

Visit to learn more about “Hair.”

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