Theater Review: Don't miss American Stage in the Park's brilliant production of Hair

If the show leaves out the underside, from life-threatening drug overdoses to promiscuity and STD’s, well, we have endless confessional memoirs on the subjects. Hair’s after something different: to trace the shape of a new hope, as it appeared proudly for a few seasons in cities and towns across this continent. If you were there, or if you simply want to know what it was like, you really shouldn’t miss this splendid production.


The show doesn’t have much plot: it’s mostly about a group of 14 young men and women who express their delight in life and relationships, and who watch more or less helplessly as the one called Claude gets called up by his draft board in preparation for a posting to Vietnam. On Scott Cooper’s two-level set, bedecked with peace signs and painted posters saying “A Friend with Weed is a Friend Indeed” and “Mobilize Against the War,” these characters make fun of parents and racists, argue a little (“How can people be so heartless?”) and exult in being young and turned-on.

A few characters stand out: there’s Claude himself (the talented Jonathan Hack), who pretends to come from Manchester, England (actually, he’s from Flushing), and Jeanie (the ingratiating Stefanie Clouse), his girlfriend, who’s pregnant with another man’s child. There’s Berger (Jeremy Hays), who pulls off his pants as he walks through the audience, and sings about the time he mistook the Statue of Liberty for his girlfriend Donna, and there’s Woof (Dick Baker), who tells the audience that “I love you and we are all one.”

The skillful Aleshea Harris plays Abraham Lincoln in a stovepipe hat, and the terrific singer Darlene Hope tells us just what’s so attractive about “White Boys.” During a segment emphasizing the horrors of war, Crissy (Alex Covington) and Jeanie sing “What a Piece of Work is Man,” a praise of the human creature taken directly from Shakespeare, with the implication that such a being is too precious to be used as a target in an unnecesary war. And there’s Sheila (Laura Hodos), who gives Berger a shirt he doesn’t want, and who reminds us that even hippies can’t keep pain out their lives.

There’s lots more: for example the assault on censorship titled Sodomy, and the corporeal exultation of I Got Life. There’s some nostalgic chanting of “Peace Now, Freedom Now,” and “Hell No, We Won’t Go.” There’s a sequence in which each character stands in a drug line – that’s right – and there’s Claude’s stoned assertion that “it’s the age of the electronic dinosaur.”

And mostly there are the famous songs, from “Hair” to “Good Morning Starshine.” Cynthia Hennessy’s choreography is extraordinarily exciting, and Eric Davis’ direction is nothing short of brilliant. (I’m beginning to think that Davis is the best director in the Bay area.) Frank Chavez’s costumes include long flowery dresses, vests and headbands, and a dozen other badges of hippie couture. The onstage band couldn’t be better.

And the American Stage Hair could hardly be better itself. This is a show that works on all levels: music and dance, intellect and emotion, memory and desire. It’s astonishingly powerful and probably unforgettable. Seldom has any show reached so deeply into my psyche.

Productions like this come once a decade.

Get a ticket if you can.

One of the many virtues of the wonderful production of Hair currently playing at Demens Landing is its reminder that the youth movement of the late 1960s stood for a genuine revolution in American values.

Watching the passionate, perfectly rendered hippies sing and dance in this superb Park musical, you’re delighted to remember — if you’re old enough, or just love the music enough — that the flower children of 40 years ago had a daring, coherent worldview, one that included an honest ethic of love, a real acceptance of racial diversity, a rejection of money fever, a search for sexual sanity, a hatred of war and militarism and a faith that mind-altering drugs just might represent a viable response to the mystery of being alive.

When the splendid cast of this rousing American Stage show asserts that it’s the Age of Aquarius and that we should "Let the Sunshine In," there’s not a trace of irony: authors Gerome Ragni and James Rado, writing during the movement they celebrated, grasped everything that was beautiful and courageous in the counterculture, and, with composer Galt MacDermot, gave it song and, perhaps, immortality. The American Stage Hair doesn’t just bring us the music, it brings us the best of a generation’s worldview, and it’s enough to make you wonder just what you’re doing with your life now.

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