july 2016 | volume 145
Book and lyrics by James Rado & Gerome Ragni
Music by Galt MacDermot
Renegade Arts Company
The Shop Theatre, 125 E. 2nd Ave.
June 16-July 2
Get out your bell bottoms and beads, paint a peace sign on your face, and head on down to The Shop Theatre at 2nd and Main (before it’s torn down for the new Mountain Equipment Co-op store) to see Hair. “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” gets an energetic revival in Renegade Arts Company’s first-ever production, and if you’re too young to remember 1968, or weren’t born yet, you might begin to understand why us boomers think we re-invented the world.
Hair is a musical of memorable songs—James Rado and Gerome Ragni’s book is another story—but it also helped define the anti-establishment, anti-war, free love, pro-drugs hippie generation, the youth counterculture of the North American Sixties that cast such a long shadow over subsequent decades. Some of it seems quaint now or silly, and more than a little pretentious. But the Sixties really did represent a revolution in attitudes towards sex, race, politics and lifestyle, and a successful production of Hair needs to seriously commit to the values the show celebrates. It has to capture the sense of joy and liberation, along with the silliness and pretension. This Renegade Arts production achieves that spectacularly.
With a cast of two dozen young, attractive performers plus a four-piece band in a small, improvised space, director/choreographer Dawn Ewen performs miracles. This production is much more about the “tribe” than about its individual members, and Ewen has everyone in the ensemble doing something interesting all the time. There is some terrific dancing, and when the full chorus sings “Aquarius,” “Hair,” “Let the Sunshine In,” and some of the show’s other anthems, it’s really stirring.
Ewen’s design team also delivers: Clara Dixon’s costumes and wigs (the show isn’t called “Hair” for nothing) are perfect, and James Kokol’s busy lighting plot provides the necessary shifts in location and tone to make you forget that the actors are performing on a bare floor. Musical director Kerry O’Donovan’s band is also very fine. Guitarist Peter Serravalle’s opening Hendrix-ish “Star Spangled Banner” is awesome.
I emphasize the ensemble here because there aren’t many individual standout performances. That’s partly because the production de-emphasizes what little plot there is. Do we know that Claude and Berger and Sheila are roommates and that she goes to NYU? Do we care? No. If you don’t pay close attention, you wouldn’t know that all these kids are crashing somewhere in New York City. The show’s references to New York area geography—Flushing, Hoboken, etc.—have no purchase at all in this Vancouver production. What we do understand is that Claude (the terrific Julien Galipeau) is in a terrible state of anxiety over whether or not to allow himself to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. That’s just enough plot to carry the show.
Otherwise, it almost seems more like a musical revue than a play. And though many of the songs are great, most of the singing is just good. There’s a real problem, even in that small space, hearing the individual voices, which are not amplified except for a few songs where the singer uses a hand mike. And even in those cases only Galipeau’s Claude comes through loud and clear. Cecilly Day, as Dionne, has a big, soulful voice that breaks through at times, and Emily Teichroeb’s Crissy does a lovely job with the brilliant little song “Frank Mills,” accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. She’s also a standout dancer in the ensemble.
The show was sold out on Tuesday night and looks likely to sell out for the rest of the run so get your tickets soon.
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