by Mark Johnson
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Bay Area Musicals’ production of “Hair” begins with a performance of “Aquarius” that is as strong as anyone could hope for. Expertly staged and sung, it has a kind of guttural power that can’t be quantified and provides for an exceptional opening that sets expectations high. Although the rest of the production does not live up to this strong start, it does have moments that serve to make this a solid production of a musical who’s worth has clearly diminished over time.
“Hair” was an enormous phenomenon when it opened on Broadway in 1968, serving to change the face of the Broadway musical. Viewed today, the show has not aged well. A quasi-revue, its single-minded message avoids any true complexity, especially with its paper-thin story. Its frank sexual tone, once so shocking, feels almost quaint when viewed through a modern lens. Nevertheless, it is an interesting time capsule when given a superlative production, and its score, while not among the greats of the American musical, has several excellent songs.
The songs are truly where this production excels. Production numbers, expertly staged by director Jon Tracy and choreographer Matthew McCoy, feel spontaneous and energetic and are very well sung by a cast of 12. The solo numbers fare less well, mostly well sung, but with the lyrics being mostly incomprehensible. The sound was so poor that lyrics were reduced to mush. This was the evening’s biggest problem.
The script is decently amusing in its first act, littered with the type of jokes Neil Simon might have written had he been part of the hippie generation. But many lines of dialogue were absolutely impossible to distinguish. Fortunately, since “Hair” is not a great drama, and relies on visual impact and choreography, the sound problems were not fatal, as they might have been with another show.
Tracy has wisely chosen a cast of singers who can act rather than actors who can sing, which suits the show well. Still, in the second act, which is already extremely heavy-handed as written, they are unable to avoid a sense of tedium. Jeffrey Brian Adams as Claude is the standout member of the cast. His natural sense of vintage charm that made him so wonderful in such shows as “Promises, Promises” and “Death of a Salesman” may not be completely in line with the character here, but nonetheless his tone is as clear as a bell and he gives the evening’s most dramatically complete performance. The rest of the cast blended together as a coherent whole, but nobody else stood out.
With this production, Bay Area Musicals proves itself as a company to watch, although they might want to invest in a new sound system as soon as possible. Caveats aside, fans of “Hair” and anybody with a committed interest in the American musical will appreciate this show. It is an important part of theatre history and is produced infrequently enough to make even a troubled production worth a look.
“Hair” plays at Bay Area Musicals through March 12. For further information, click here.
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“Hair” with music and lyrics by Galt McDermot and Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, produced by Bay Area Musicals. Director: Jon Tracy. Choreographer: Matthew McCoy. Musical Director: Jon Gallo. Stage Manager: Salim Razawi. Costume Designer: Pasquale Spezzano. Scenic/Lighting Designer: Jon Tracy. Sound Designer: Nicholas Rieker. Prop Designer: Matthew McCoy.
Claude: Jeffrey Brian Adams. Berger: Jepoy Ramos. Sheila: Ally Reardon. Jeanie: Grace Ng. Crissy: Adrienne Walters. Dionne: Katrina McGraw. Hud: Rotimi Agbabiaka. Woof: Benjamin Nguyen. Margaret Mead/Hubert: Peter Dakota Molof. Suzannah: Tierra Allen. Ronny: David Glazer. Natalie: Indiia Wilmott.