Summer of Love Lives on in HAIR thru Nov. 20th
HODGES AND HODGES Review HAIR
A day after the Occupy Oakland encampment was raided by police, putting one young Iraqi vet in critical condition; the Summer of Love was rekindled at the smash opening night of HAIR in San Francisco's Golden Gate Theater. In this, the "fall/winter of our discontent" the words to "Let the Sunshine" seemed like a new clarion call to transparency, insight and action as two wars rage on under a system broken by greed and avarice. Though HAIR deals with issues of war and the draft its buoyant music and script ultimately capture the free-spirited dawning of the hippie movement when everything still seemed possible.
Hodges and Hodges (Nick and Linda) were there to take in the Age of Aquarius and get our hippie groove on and review the show for you!
Nick, what were your first impressions?
I loved that the action started well before you entered the theater. Patrons were greeted by young groups of hippies passing out daisies and there was a face painting booth staffed by artists, whose only goal was to paint a smile or rainbow on your face. Someone was passing out name tags that had hippie names on them, sending a clear signal that the audience was as much a part of the show as the cast.
That was a lot of fun and definitely set the stage! As we stepped into the theater the blue-green tie-dyed scrim that floated a rotating bright, full moon, made me feel like the Age of Aquarius was upon us.
As the music began, and the scrim fell from the sky in a flowing rush of silk, it was clear that the tribe and onstage band were ready for a be-in.
I got chills when Phyre Hawkins (who plays Dionne) began singing the Age of Aquarius, easily one of the best opening numbers in a Broadway show.
What did you think of the set?
I thought that scenic designer Sott Pask did a fantastic job evoking the color and passion of the 60's. I especially liked the large sunburst that formed the backdrop. But I was disappointed with the choice of a truck onstage.
Yeah, he missed a marvelous opportunity to have the iconic Volkswagen bus up there.
But I forgot all of that when Steel Burkhardt's Berger addressed the audience. Berger is the leader of the tribe of young hippies who are determined to resist the draft, their parent's control and basically all institutions. They've banded together in an alternative family headed by Berger, Claude (Paris Remilard) and Sheila (Sara King).
Berger was so playful with the audience, making sure they laughed -- even if it took a leg up on the armrest of an audience member's chair while wearing his very skimpy loincloth.
Didn't you like it when he climbed up on the chairs and begged for money from that woman in the front row? The audience involvement and energy was so much fun. They really were playing along with the cast.
I thought that the whole cast was amazing. And even though it took me a while to sense their connection to each other, the second act blew me away. Claude moved us through the show with a voice that was exciting, uplifting and at times was so moving that a poignant sadness was almost palpable.
The sexual freedom of the tribe was pretty clear especially in the relationship between Berger, Claude and Sheila. King did great job on "Easy to be hard," where her rich alto voicing resonated with earnestness and angst.
Their relationship was a joy to watch as they played, flirted, joked, loved, and simply inspired each other all the way until the end when they did a powerful goodbye, but we'll save that for later. The vocals were great but I seem to remember a lot more high notes from other productions, especially in the songs "Hair," "I Believe in Love."
Yes, I agree, but you couldn't help but be pulled in by the infectious music and energy of the entire cast.
As a mom, I was really moved when Claude has finally made his decision to go to Vietnam and he says, "I went so deep inside myself, I even cleaned my room." It got a laugh from the audience, but all I could think of was the fact that he's too young to have to think about a monumental decision like going to war. He should be home cleaning his room and doing his homework - not hiding in a foxhole.
That's a really cool perspective because when I heard the line, as a young person, I thought - well, he's just cleaning his room.
A metaphor for the whole show for me was when Claude says, "I'm Aquarius - destined for greatness or madness." At the tribal Be-in, when the drums are beating and, one by one the guys drop their draft cards into the fire, Claude stands there with his draft card over his head and we don't know at this point if it is going to be greatness or madness. Then, of course, this is where the nude scene comes in.
The point of the nude scene is supposed to be about society being more shocked by seeing naked bodies, than sending young people off to die in a war. The lighting was a little dim and left the cast in shadows and didn't really make the point that everyone is beautiful either. Although the lighting could have been better, their willingness to be out there onstage, fully bared, was inspiring but the beauty of what they were doing was compromised by the disconnected sound of a blaring police siren signaling them offstage.
I don't know. I thought that the siren, and the way they sauntered off the stage, conveyed a sad recognition that change is hard to achieve.
Even after the startling siren I was still excited about Act II. I could feel a change in the cast with Phyre Hawkins explosive singing in "White Boys." The tribe felt connected and they stayed that way through to the end.
I've seen the end done several ways, but this one was especially poignant and I give kudos to director Diane Paulus for making the finale so strong and dramatic.
I agree. I've mostly seen it as a loud energetic shout to the heavens to let the sunshine in as they mourn Claude. Diane Paulus hit the nail on the head with her interpretation, showing the pain and suffering that comes with war. The sorrowful, yet powerful voices of the cast singing about their loss and their hope for more as they walked down the aisles, moved me to tears as I watched Claude rest on the flag. Hands down the best finale I have seen of the show.
I couldn't help thinking of soldier Scott Olsen, felled on the streets of Oakland, just miles from the theater. It truly is time to ‘let the sunshine in' and take our lead from the generation that started it all right here in San Francisco. It was so great to have the cast bring the audience up on stage for an uplifting version of the song. It's as if they tribe was saying, "It's going to take all of us to make change possible."
In the end the whole cast came together as a tribe and brought a new life to this musical during a time when police and peaceful protesters are in an uproar once again in our own backyards. The songs are still relevant and moving. The struggles are still being fought today and this cast will lift your spirits, inspire you and give you a new outlook on the present misfortunes of our country.
Hodges and Hodges each give HAIR a great review.
Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and Jame Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by Diane Paulus
Oct. 25 - Nov 20, 2011
Golden Gate Theatre
2 hours and 25 minutes
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus