I would like wine, popcorn and “Gimme a head of hair…” This week Atlanta can don their dusty old hippy wear and hitch-hike to the Fox Theater to experience the Tony award winning, Broadway revival of HAIR.
I have been curiously watching this production grow from a seedling in a pot, to its re-plantation in Central park and then through its successful and full garden explosion on Broadway. The reason I start sniffing around this blooming Gerber Daisy is because I have a little history with its Director, Diane Paulus. I am happy to be able to tell you, about one of my successful professional engagements in the Big Apple, as opposed to something I floated around and experienced from the outside. One of my favorite projects ever The Donkey Show directed by Paulus and her creative partner/ husband, Randy Weiner, was a Disco Version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I went to work every day at The Club El Flamingo, a popular night club on the west side of Manhattan, around the Chelsea area. The most wonderful part about this production was that it didn’t just occur on a stage, it happened outside, on, around, and in the audience of the club. The audience wasn’t sitting and watching the show, they were inside the show. Each performer got to portray two characters; mine were Mr. Oberon, the club owner and Mia (a.k.a. Hermia) one of the four lovers. All of this, hopefully, gives you an idea of how Paulus approaches her work. She looks at the proverbial box from across the street, she then turns it into a sphere, it pops, a butterfly emerges and it soars into outer space.
I was curious when Diane’s little HAIR concert was being produced at Shakespeare in the Park, I was excited when it moved to Broadway and you can’t imagine how proud I was sitting with my munchkins in Atlanta watching the company perform and win at the Tony awards last year.
Before the show Tuesday afternoon, I got a chance to speak with Singer/ Songwriter Kacie Sheik, one of the original and current performers in this production of HAIR. She plays Jeanie, the pregnant character who is madly in love with Claude, portrayed by Paris Remillard. First of all, what a voice! Even over the phone, I could tell she was a serious talent. Soft, feminine and melodic she told me she loves Atlanta and was here in 2003 performing a short engagement at the 14th Street Playhouse. She came to this show at the beginning and has taken the entire unexpected journey from the Delacourt theater concert, to the current national tour. This was also her Broadway debut. By the way, HAIR will be returning to Broadway for 10 weeks in early July, in case anyone is working or vacationing in NYC this summer.
In regards to the day to day challenges of touring, I half expected Sheik to say that it’s tough or she misses her dog in the city, but she didn’t. Sheik warmly expressed that touring is enjoyable, and that the company is, “…a well oiled machine of peace and love!” This allows them to arrive at an unfamiliar theater, load in, have a sound check, a quick blocking session, dinner and perform that very night. She said that HAIR lets them reach out to the audiences. They can get up close and dirty, talk to the audience and stroke the lovely locks of an unsuspecting patron. In the end, the people in the house can even go up and dance with the performers on stage. The show stays fresh every night for the entertainers because they can see and react to the energy of those who came to watch them.
Because this show is rooted in such a specific time frame, I was wondering how the piece was relevant to today’s theater goers. Sheik responded that it is definitely still relevant. In a world riddled with conflict, HAIR has strong messages about love and war. It also wasn’t that long ago, so the older generations can share the 60’s experience with the younger ones and be shocked in the process. Facebook and Twitter has the world much more intimately connected. Audience members can directly interface and touch the cast with their experiences. People can share their feelings and tell these talented troubadours how much they enjoyed the show. Sheik illustrated a story about a kid who thanked them over the internet and expressed how he was, “…nicer to people in homeroom,” since he had seen the show.
HAIR was what I expected and more. To put it to rest now, the movie cannot be compared to this amazing production. The stage greeted us minimally with scaffolding and an old truck. The scaffolding housed the live musicians, nine of them to be exact, decked out in their 60’s garb. All through the show I couldn’t believe that luscious rock and roll was being produced by just a handful of musicians.
The ensemble entered from all around the theater and was interactive from the very beginning. When introducing the Berger character, Steel Burkhardt, refers to himself as the Atlanta Berger or Peach Berger. Audiences tend to be shy and are used to the separation between stage and house, but like a good comic, this gave us permission to engage and vocalize.
What I really loved about this show was that the entire cast and music ensemble were present and accounted for the whole the performance. The Tribe stayed on the stage, almost the entire time. We are talking about the presence of 30 plus bodies. There was no running off for a sip of water, no wiping of the brow or Potty breaks. Yet, they were still able to create dynamics and flow from scene to scene. The soloists were always supported by chorus. Quiet intimate moments moved into raucous parties driving the story line forward. All somewhat tastefully punctuated with brief sexual encounters. Now, I wouldn’t take my 6 year old, but mid to late teens definitely, with some good parental guidance, of course. Even the nude scene happened without a hitch, in fact, I almost missed it. Everything had stopped while, stage right, Remillard sang “Where Do I Go”. The lights dimmed and the cast just unselfconsciously slipped their costumes off and ended the first act.
Finally, I want share my feelings about the score. In college, I had a roommate, Emily, who was obsessed with the old movie soundtrack. She played it at least once every day, so I became pretty familiar with the music. Since, I’m a movement oriented person, melodies and tempos come quick, but words…not so much. So in the mysterious working of my cobwebby mind, I hold fast to about 40% of the HAIR lyrics. I love to sing, so this little hiccup in my ability to retain words never stops me from belting it out…and I did… the whole time. Almost to the point where I thought to myself, “ooooo, maybe I should stop,” and, “I hope I’m not bothering the nice ladies in front of me.”
The music was fantastic. They didn’t change the score too much, but what they did do in harmony and tempo, made the auditory experience mesmerizing. In some places the music moved faster and in others slower, keeping me on the edge of my seat, and making my rendition that much more foul. These singers are to die for. What impressed me the most was the use of the lower registers of their voices. It is often thought that good singing is belting songs loud and high, this is only a small portion of the equation. Nothing can compare to a vocalist who can drop down to notes that rattle your intestines. These performers did just that. Male and female artist a like, stretched both ends of the spectrum to create a new classic score for generations to come.
The Broadway revival of HAIR was amazing on all accounts. The great music, perfect performances, and staging kept the audience 100% invested. It had sex, drugs and rock and roll, along with powerful images, strong messages and it stirred up emotion. This one is a must see! There are only a couple days left to see HAIR in Atlanta, it runs through May 22, 2011. Throw on your bell bottoms and come shake it at the Fox Theater this weekend.