BWW Review: HAIR at Geva Theatre
I was born about 30 years too late to have any connection to or recollection of the hippie movement; my only reference points are the timeless music of Joan Baez and brief snippets of the movie Forrest Gump. For me and my generational peers, the closest comparison to the hippie movement of the 1960's is probably the Bush-era protests against the Iraq war, which-while historic and important-didn't create the eternal cultural impact that hippies did. However, seeing a live production of Hair is probably the most engrossing and all-encompassing way to experience the tumult of the 1960's for me and my millennial cohorts, and the production currently playing at Rochester's Geva Theatre is just that: an all-engrossing, captivating theatrical experience that you surely won't forget.
Though it's doubtful that this iconic fifty-one year-old show needs summarizing for audience members or prospective audience members, Hair is the 1961 rock musical set during the tye-dyed, long-haired, anti-war hippie movement of the 1960's. Though its storyline is infamously sparse-the experience of seeing the show is more important than its narrative arc in my opinion-it focuses on a politically-active tribe of hippies in New York City who are living a bohemian lifestyle, protesting the Vietnam War, and experiencing the sexual and counter-cultural revolution of the era. Most notably, the story focuses on Claude (Michael Burrell) and his decision whether or not to resist the draft. Hair was famously controversial at the time of its original Broadway run for its onstage nudity, anti-American themes, and racially integrated cast.
It's hard to put into words the spectacle that is Geva's production of Hair. From the moment you walk into the theatre you'll be transfixed by the stories-high geodesic set that consumes most of the stage, the enormous graffitied backdrop, the VW Bug, and the wild display of lights and sounds. Scenic Designer Adam Koch, Lighting Designer Brian Lilienthal, and Sound Designer Danny Erdberg did an outstanding job at creating the physical and aesthetic backdrop for this story to be told. Even the choice to place cast members throughout the theatre smacking around a beach ball as audience members trickled in added to the 1960's bohemian atmosphere.
The music coming from both the stage and the pit couldn't have been of a higher quality. Well-known songs such as "Age of Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine In" sound as good as or better than the original Broadway recording, and lush vocal numbers like "Frank Mills" are beautiful and heartfelt. Just as impressive as the onstage musical talent are the sounds coming from the pit. Musical Director Don Kot marshalled the tightest, grooviest, funkiest musicians to fill out the band, and I could have listened to them by themselves for hours.
And of course, the cast seemed to have stepped out of a time machine onto Geva's stage directly from the 1960's. Notable standouts include Joe Chisholm (playing Berger), Lawson Young (playing Jeannie), and the many ensemble moments that featured the entire 18-member cast bringing this powerful story to life.
Geva Theatre didn't become Rochester's premiere professional theatre by accident, and productions such as this one remind audience members why: their attention to detail and commitment to a high-caliber experience set them apart from peer artistic institutions across New York State and the country.