Flower power is in full bloom at the Keegan Theatre and it’s pretty damn groovy.
Keegan Theatre on Church Street NW has been transformed into a hippie’s paradise, like a found loft in the East Village, appointed with mismatched furniture, rope swings, and cozy grottos where love is love and love-making is always a possibility.
Out of this perfect greenhouse the days of Vietnam War protests, dropping out, and free love grows anew in this mesmerizingly sensual trip to 1967 for the “American tribal love-rock musical,” Hair.
The improvisational nature of Hair is right at home with this gifted ensemble, wholly believable as a group of drop-outs who live and love communally. They share drugs, swap partners, and embrace the world around them with a combination childlike innocence and revolutionary fervor.
Each cast of Hair takes a name for itself, taking a tip from the show’s earliest productions. The ensemble at Keegan, under the inspired direction by Mark and Susan Rhea, dubbed themselves the WAPPO Tribe. The actual Wappo tribe, once inhabited California’s Napa Valley, were known for wearing little if any clothing.
That being said, let’s get this bit of news out of the way quickly: yes, there is nudity in Keegan’s production. Not a wappo-ing amount, but it’s there, in the traditional spot at the close of the first act, during the poignant “Where Do I Go?” The moment is handled as a beautiful, organic extension of the story and the relationships that make up the heart of Hair.
The central relationship is a complicated love triangle between three tribe members: Claude, Berger and Sheila. Claude is the dreamer, sensitive, gentle, and playful. Paul Scanlan (the Emcee in Keegan’s Cabaret) brings out the sweetness and the complexities of Claude, a young man torn by the desire to escape society’s pressures and do what is right by his family.
By contrast, Berger, is the wild, satyr-as-played-by-Hippie-Jesus ring-leader of the tribe. The gifted Josh Sticklin just is Berger – you cannot fake seduction, charm, sexuality, and still keep a twinkle in your eye. Woven between Claude and Berger is Sheila (Caroline Wolfson bringing sensitivity and effortless grace to the role.) Sheila is a vehement war protestor and NYU student who is also clearly smitten with both of her long-locked lover boys.
For all the talk through the years about Hair’s thin plot, I would say look no further than three people in love and you have more than enough to hang a tale. Together, Scanlan, Sticklin and Wolfson show the simplicity of three people for whom loving each other knows few boundaries except for the flaws that make them human.
There are high stakes in Hair, too. As Claude struggles to fit into the Tribe, he is pulled in the other direction. His hallucinogenic journey, “Walking in Space,” gives him plenty to think about, including what must be sacrificed.
Harmony and understanding converge from all aspects of the production. Collaborating with co-directors Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea, the designers give the youthful cast a fertile playground in which to seduce us back to the late-60s for the ultimate be-in – from the scenic design by Matthew Keenan, ably lit by Allan Sean Weeks, and the subtle sound design by Tony Angelini. The silky, vested and fringed wardrobe by costume designer Chelsey Schuller is right on the money, too. And what would Hair the show be without the ‘down to there’ hair that is celebrated as a symbol of the free-spirit, tune-out and turn-on vibe that is central to the show. Craig Miller has worked wonders with hair of all shapes and sizes, real and wigged.
Extended to April 27, 2014
1742 Church Street, NW
2 hours, 40 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $37 – $42
Thursdays thru Sundays
Some performances are SOLD OUT
If, like me, your only exposure to the songs has been recordings, this cast and the kick-ass band (under the direction of Jake Null) will make every note and lyric stick with you long after they have hung up their tie-dye.
When the tribe sings together, the effect is often chilling: “Aquarius,” lead by Ines Nassara as Ronni, raises goose-bumps. And the closing sequence, “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)” and “Eyes Look Your Last,” left me breathless.
To borrow from “Aquarius,” Keegan’s Hair is a golden living dream of visions that deserve to be shared.
KEEGAN’s WARNING: Contains nudity and strong language. Parental discretion is highly advised and children under the age of 14 will NOT be permitted in the theater.
Hair . Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado . Music by Galt MacDermot . Directed by Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea . Featuring Danny Berteux, Jamie Boyle, Ian Anthony Coleman, Darius Tyrus Epps, Paige Felix, Chad W. Fornwalt, Kelly Furtado, Autumn Seavey Hicks, Jade Jones, Emily Levey, Eben K. Logan, Thony Mena, Christian Montgomery, Ines Nassara, Lyndsay Rini, Paul Scanlan, Ava Silva, Kedren Spencer, Josh Sticklin, Dani Stoller, Ryan Patrick Welsh, Caroline Wolfson, and Peter Finnegan .
Choreography: Rachel Leigh Dolan assisted by Alison Crosby . Musical Direction/Conductor: Jake Null . Scenic Design: Matthew Keenan . Costume Design: Chelsey Schuller . Lighting Design: Allan Sean Weeks . Sound Design: Tony Angelini . Hair and Make up Design: Craig Miller . Properties: Carol Hood Baker . Assistant Director: Lauren Miller . Stage Managers Nikki Hoffpauir and Alexis J. Rose . Produced by The Keegan Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.