BWW Review: Roxy Regional Theatre's HAIR Will Knock Your Clothes Off, Thanks to Kinzer and Bowie
Any directors planning new productions of Hair - wherever they may be all over this colorful country in which we live - might be advised to follow the lead of Clarksville's Roxy Regional Theatre and cast Mike Kinzer and Ryan Bowie as Berger and Claude, a pair of actors/characters who together define the term "sheer perfection." Backed up by an ensemble of passionate, totally committed actors who bring "The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" to life, Kinzer and Bowie are ideally suited to their roles and the production in which they star is by far the best we've seen at the Roxy in many a moon (hell, we'd be back again for the final two shows if we could score tickets).
Unfortunately, Roxy Regional Theatre's Hair closes Saturday night, June 29, and judging from the packed house they had at last night's show (on a Thursday!) in downtown Clarksville, chances are tickets will be hard to come by for the final two performances of the run. But, believe me, you should make every effort to see this stellar cast in action. They will probably knock your proverbial socks off - or maybe other articles of clothing, truth be told - in homage to the original production and its controversial use of nudity (although here, the treatment of that particular scene is very tame and lacks the original impact, for sure).
No matter that, the Roxy's Hair is a completely involving and immersive experience, with the actors moving about the intimate confines of the theater to engage the audience and to bring an in-your-face sense of excitement to the proceedings. Bowie actually wears three hats in this production: he is star, director and choreographer (wait, make that four, since he's also the company's artistic director) and he once again proves his mettle by executing a show that the chattering class will be talking about for months to come. The focus and commitment of the entire company is impressive and the material (particularly its treatment of anti-war protests) has never seemed more relevant or immediate.
inzer, who plays Berger - the de facto leader of the pack of young people who spend most of their time in the streets, lollygagging (how's that for an ancient, if descriptive, term?) about the park, getting high and loving one another, challenging the establishment and defining the term "counter-culture" - may have been born for the role. Sexy and charming, with loads of stage presence and a terrific voice that he manipulates and controls with apparent ease, Kinzer also possesses what may be the most gorgeous mane of curly hair we've ever seen; in fact, if he weren't so friggin' young, we would suggest that Gerome Ragni and James Rado (the duo responsible for the libretto) and Galt MacDermot (who wrote the music) might have named their show in honor of his luxurious mop of curls.
From the show's earliest moments, in which we are introduced to the members of the tribe, Kinzer's electric presence is felt, providing a jolt to the performance that sets it in motion. He moves about the ease with confidence, exuding a sensual appeal that is palpable. But more importantly, he becomes Berger with effortless ease, bounding about the space with a certain sense of abandon that helps to inform his character's intentions and he interacts with the rest of the cast, in general, but in particular with Bowie with an awesome grace that sparks a chemical reaction that's felt clear through to the final curtain. Sassy and provocative, you'll hope to see more of him in the future.
Likewise, Bowie - who has proven himself over and over during his illustrious tenure at the Roxy - commands the stage with his own personal brand of stage presence that is just as abundant at Mr. Kinzer's. Together, the two men are off the charts.
Bowie's laidback and mellow Claude is amazingly likable even if he pretends to be from Manchester, England (England) instead of Flushing, Queens where he was born and still lives with his overbearing, typically uptight (in the 1967 sort of way portrayed by the history books and personal recollections) parents (evocatively portrayed by Brian Best and Kathy Watts). Bowie's skillful control of his own vocal instrument is startling and with his crystalline tones giving voice to some of the score's best-known tunes, you'll feel as if you're hearing them for the very first time.
As a result, by the show's dramatic and heartstopping finale, you'll find yourself completely won over by Bowie and Kinzer and the rest of their boisterous crew and the impact of those final moments will resonate more deeply, be felt more jarringly than you might have expected.
In short, this production of Hair will make you laugh and cry. Rest assured, it will be come a part of you.
While Kinzer and Bowie leading the ensemble, you might think the supporting actors could take a breather - but you'd be wrong! Rather, this amazing ensemble of talented individuals perform at their very best, bringing each of their fascinating characters to life with tremendous appeal and, I daresay, artistry. As Dionne, Alexandra West is tasked with opening the show with "The Age of Aquarius" and she does not disappoint, providing a rendition of the song that still haunts me more than 12 hours after first hearing her. Throughout the show's two acts, she delivers the goods, lending her gorgeous voice to any number of songs that will seem bereft henceforth if she's not signing them. Yarissa Tiara Milan, as Sheila, claims the spotlight with Act One's "Easy to Be Hard" and reasserts herself with "Good Morning, Starshine" later in Act Two, both of which are as good as it gets - and her reading of Sheila is spot-on.
Geoffrey Belliston very nearly walks off with the entire show early on as we're introduced to his character of Woof and he maintains that intensity for the intervening two-and-a-half hours. Caitie L. Moss shows off her versatility (we last saw her as Mayella Ewell in To Kill A Mockingbird) and here she plays the ever-pregnant Jeanie with a deft blend of comedy and pathos. David Ridley, a stalwart of Nashville musical theater, is effective as Hud, while Annabelle Szepietowski sings "Frank Mills" with all of her heart to stop yours. Best and Watts are terrific as the authority figures in the piece, while Best scores a particular triumph as the gender-bending Margaret Mead. Emma Jordan and Melody Lieberman join Millan for a particularly stunning "Black Boys," while the aforementioned West knocks it out of the park, leading the vocals on "White Boys."
You may add more responsibilities to Bowie's already burgeoning resume: he designed the costumes, set and projections to give the production an authentic and eye-popping visual appeal, while Noel Rennerfeldt's lighting adds to the show's visceral impact.
Matthew McNeill provides strong musical direction for the piece, leading the onstage band (consisting of John Mayes-Barron on guitar, Colin Mai on bass, Thad Wallus on drums, Jakobie Kindle and Malik Sylvester on trumpets and Austin Wells on reeds) in a rocking treatment of MacDermot's memorable score.
Hair. Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Music by Galt MacDermot. Directed and choreographed by Ryan Bowie. Musical direction by Matthew McNeill. Presented by the Roxy Regional Theatre, Clarksville. Through June 29. For details, go to www.roxyregionaltheatre.org or call (931) 645-7699. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).