Live theater is back at The Old Globe after a 17-month pandemic hiatus with an exuberant full-scale, outdoor production of the groundbreaking musical “Hair,” and San Diego theatergoers – some wearing bell-bottoms, tie-dye shirts, and flowers in their hair – are more than ready to turn on and tune in.
“Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” is the story of a group of counterculture hippies in New York City, in the 1960s, eager to get high and serve as foot soldiers in the sexual revolution while pushing back against the military draft, Vietnam War, and conservative societal norms of the era. That such passion mirrors today’s youthful activists who also seek to change the world, proves the appeal and power of this 54-year-old rock musical.
Enduring songs and indelible characters are brought to life by a rock-solid cast of 16 under the confident direction of James Vásquez. Central to the story are idealistic Claude (Tyler Hardwick), the ultimate free spirit Berger (Andrew Polec), strident political activist Sheila (Storm Lever), and lovable gender-fluid Woof (Angel Lozada). Noteworthy is songstress Nyla Sostre as Dionne, whose performance of “Aquarius” is spine-tingling.
The arrival of Claude’s draft notice and what he plans to do about it is a story through-line with an array of side stories told through songs about race (“Colored Spade”), sexuality (“Sodomy”), drug hallucinations (“Walking in Space”), environmental pollution (“Air”) and a flower child who falls in love with a Hell’s Angel (“Frank Mills”). Delivering a benediction is the show’s final song: “Let the Sunshine In.”
“Where Do I Go?” conveys Claude’s struggle against parental pressure to do what they consider his patriotic duty, even if it costs him his life, while the “tribe” pulls him in the opposite direction to burn his draft card and flee to Canada. Tyler Hardwick portrayal of Claude’s indecision and angst is so riveting, you might not even notice the famous nude scene (positively scandalous when the show debuted half a century ago) taking place in the dim light at the back of the stage.
Scenic designer Tim Mackabee makes the most of the spacious outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre to convey a trash-strewn vacant lot in the Big Apple corralled in by graffiti-tagged chain-link fencing with peace symbols galore.
Choreography by Mayte Natalio combined with lighting design by Amanda Zieve of pulsating flower petals and other symbology of the era is utterly captivating. Costumes by David Israel Reynoso are everything they should be in terms of colors, prints, feathers, leather, and denim authenticity.
On stage and spot-on is the orchestra under the direction of conductor/keyboard player Angela Steiner. During a well-earned standing ovation at the performance’s end, the orchestra showed off its hot licks with cast members serving as dancing proxies for the audience.
by Lynne Friedmann