Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Hair is considered a product of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s. The musical's depiction of the use of illegal drugs, and casual treatment of sexuality (including a brief nude scene) made it objectionable to many. Its controversial anti-war sentiment and associated irreverence for the American flag made some of its songs anthems for the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. Hair broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of rock musical, using a racially integrated cast and inviting the audience onstage for a "Be-In" finale.
From the start of the show, as the first notes of "Aquarius" are sweetly and soulfully sung by Fo'i Meleah, the audience is engaged by a cast standing atop the armrests of empty seats, running fingers through their hair and pressing their bodies against them. Mike Westrich captures much of the charismatic if irreverent nature of the character of Berger that makes him appealing. Michael Scott Ross is not quite as successful in capturing the essence of Claude. He doesn't establish strong enough bonds with his fellow actors or a clear enough arc for his character.
Alexa Baray has some nice moments as Sheila but is a bit inconsistent. She fails to really dig emotionally into what should be a heart-wrenching "Easy to Be Hard." Nicole Kinzel is adorable as a kooky and very pregnant Jeanie. Shenise Nunez has a surprisingly lovely singing voice in the song "Frank Mills." While Sean Dorazio turns in a fairly strong performance as Claude's demanding Dad, Brittany Payne comes off as inexperienced as his nagging Mom.
Due to the large size of the cast and the small size of the stage, this production is not overly staged/choreographed. Numbers that are more fully actualized take advantage of the aisles and a great deal of free-style dancing. Shifting one's gaze about during these numbers allows for the enjoyment of those actors submerged in the moment. Some of the members of the Tribe have a stronger commitment to that moment and their character than others. They are of course the most interesting to watch as their characters shine through even without dialogue. For this reason, though they have limited solo moments, Elijah Word, Khadijah Rolle, and Emily Tarallo deserve a special mention.
While the energy of the cast in this production is unwavering, the direction is missing in heart. It seems to be all about sex and drugs and a childish resentment of anything that would harsh the buzz of the Tribe. A relaxed enjoyment of sex and drugs were but one part of the culture of the youth of this time. The driving force was a rejection of the status quo, unfeeling capitalism, and the Vietnam War. They are not just self-absorbed and out for a good time. This directorial choice strips the characters of their sense of humanity and the innocence of their idealism. It inevitably softens the intended impact of the loss of one of these characters at the end of the show.
Tied to the endless high energy of this production is strong musicianship. A live, six-piece band led by music director Paul Reekie plays the score well. Despite a couple of songs in which soloists seem to start in the wrong key, the cast genuinely sings everything very cleanly. This is the first production of Hair in which I understood every single word. With a large cast, a wordy score, and many fast-paced songs, this is quite an achievement.
The entertaining MNM Productions version of Hair has gone the extra mile in an attempt to immerse the audience in the feeling of the times and, though largely successful, just needs to focus more on the sincerity of the reasons for social discontent behind the story of Hair that make it relevant commentary even today.
The original Broadway production of Hair opened at the Biltmore Theatre in April of 1968, after their Off-Broadway debut at Joseph Papp's Public Theatre in October of 1967. The production received Tony Award nominations for Best Musical and Best Director, closing on July 1, 1972, after 1,750 performances. A 1977 Broadway revival ran again at the Biltmore Theatre for 43 performances. A second Broadway revival opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on March 31, 2009, closing on June 27, 2010, after 519 regular performances; it then went on tour and returned to Broadway July 5 through September 10, 2011. That revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical, and the Drama League Award for Distinguished Revival of a Musical.
Hair will be appearing at the Marshall E. Rinker Playhouse of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts through June 5, 2016. The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts is located at 701 Okeechobee Blvd. in West Palm Beach, FL. For tickets and information you may contact them by phone at 561-832-7469, (561-832-SHOW), or 1-800-572-8471 or online at www.kravis.org.
*Indicates member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage mangers in the United States.