Hair at The Chance Theater

From the moment the young, energetic and handsome cast of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is done with the opening number “Aquarius,” at the Chance Theatre, the infectious tribal beats of Galt MacDermot’s score has firmly rooted the direction of this sleek and timely revival of the very first rock musical.

It’s been 41 years since the original Broadway cast staged their now infamous and much talked about nude “Be-In,” and while at the time, its controversy was basis for censorship, its deeper message of (as stated by director Oanh Nguyen) “pride, loyalty and subversive nature that are inherently a part of the American spirit” remains as relevant today as it was back then.

For Nguyen, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War is a part of history very personal to him. The Vietnamese-American director came to the U.S. as part of the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 and for that reason, the production of Hair relies less on nostalgia and, instead, focuses on “who these young people were and what they were so passionately fighting for.”

While firmly rooted in the flower power era of the volatile and changing era of the late 1960s, under the very capable direction of Nguyen, the whole design, starting with Erika C. Miller’s costumes that cleverly mixes some modern and vintage costumes, yet retaining an overall feel for the 60s; Christopher Scott Murillo’s New York gritty street scene; and KC Wilkerson’s psychedelic lighting design all work seamlessly to achieve the overall feel of a fresh, hip, and fun revival.

Hair’s almost bookless (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado) story revolves around a group of politically active hippies collectively known as The Tribe, led by the free spirited Berger (Armando Gutierrez).

Through a series of musical vignettes, a story unfolds in which Claude (James May), a member of the tribe, is torn between burning his draft card in protest of the war or actually going off to fight for his country.

In the meantime, Sheila (Michaelia Leigh), a student at NYU is in love with Berger and Jeanie (Jeanie), is in love with Claude, but carrying someone else’s baby.

Woolf (Cody Clark), self-proclaimed gardener, is hung up on Sheila and Berger. As a group, they aimlessly haunt New York’s Central Park and other areas staging Be-Ins, taking illegal substances, protesting the war, and pay satiric tributes to the American Flag.

As a whole, the strength of this musical is in the catchy and diverse musical styles that sample a wide range of musical genres ranging from folk rock, rockabilly, rock and roll, R&B, acid rock, and pop music.

The cast of this production is so versatile and talented-vocally and kinetically, that they are able to fluidly weave in and out of the musical numbers revealing an almost awe-inspiring feat of choreography under Kelly Todd’s supervision.

Notable in this production is David LaMarr as the militant African-American Hud. He was last seen along with Gutierrez in the Chance’s production of The Girl, The Grouch, and the Goat, where he demonstrated his comedic timing. Here, LaMarr shines with attitude and full vocal cords (he wears two hats in this production as Vocal Captain, too.)

Gutierrez shows that he can be versatile, going from shy and awkward in Goat to sexually charismatic in this production. Leigh Louise Kato, Amber J. Snead, and Jenna Romano head a strong female cast as various members of the Tribe and other characters.

Hair just won a Tony for the Broadway revival earlier this year. It’s just one of those shows that, when done properly, it is a definite crowd pleaser. If there is to be any fault in this production, it is that the space is too small to contain such a burst of energy and celebration.

Luckily, The Chance sees no limitations and carries on their mission of “exploration of intimate live theatre.”


About Obed Medina
Obed received his BA in Creative Writing from the University of California at Riverside. He has freelanced and volunteered at various theatre companies in Los Angeles since 2002. He launched his own workshop theatre company in 2008 and has produced six original one-act plays and one Off-Broadway hit. Currently, he is living in Ashland, Oregon working on his writing and founder of Collaborative Theatre Project.

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