When Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical debuted onstage in 1967 and then moved to Broadway a year later, it did not receive rave reviews from critics. But audiences embraced this new kind of theatrical offering. They had never seen a stage production with such open displays of sexuality, drug use and earthy language — once the show got to Broadway, there was even full nudity onstage! This was groundbreaking stuff, and still is outside the realm of the average theater production.
Out Of The Box Theater Company, which made a splash on the local theater scene earlier this year with Reefer Madness, returns with Hair, running through Oct. 31 at Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo.
Directed by Samantha Eve and Kellen Vanetti, this production is true to the original stage play — very different from the 1979 film version, which most audience members may be more familiar with. To create a more fast-moving and compelling film, Milos Forman completely restructured the plot and the main characters and reordered the songs, cutting a large number of them completely.
This version will not fit in with what you know from the film, but it is fascinating to see how Hair was originally conceived and presented. It is much more free-form and unstructured, thin on plot and character development, the songs often seeming to come out of nowhere.
Some standout performances were Eve, in the small role of Chrissy, whose beautiful voice made the quirky song, “Frank Mills,” poignant and sweet, and Alison Vance as the ditzy pregnant hippie, Jeannie. Vance’s voice was versatile, ranging from humorous squeak to full-bodied in the course of a song, and her characterization of the wiser-than-she-may-seem Jeannie was deft. Displaying a rich and polished voice for soul was Michelle Williams, taking the lead on “White Boys,” as did Nell Carter in the film.
Also notable were Sean Jackson, sublime as the Lecturer in Reefer Madness, here playing a curious tourist in drag who engages with the hippie tribe; Mike Payne as Hud, who brought an energy and rhythm to his performance that was a joy to see; and Emily Jewell, whose rich, clear singing voice and solid presence anchored the cast.
Not all the singers were as strong, though the ensemble songs came together nicely. Some parts of the show moved slowly and lacked energy, but it’s hard to say whether this was the actors or the disjointed material of the original script. However, at the end when the audience was invited up onstage to dance and sing “Let the Sunshine In” with the cast, it felt as if it could be the Age of Aquarius after all.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.