BWW Previews: HAIR at Cutting Edge Theater - A Cut Above

BWW Previews: HAIR at Cutting Edge Theater - A Cut Above

There's something truly cutting edge happening at a community theater just east of New Orleans in Slidell Louisiana, and it might just include a highly acclaimed haircut you can have there by day at Attractions Salon, but it is mostly what is happening in the back of the building at Cutting Edge Theater that really has folks buzzing - it is their latest production of...Hair: the American, tribal love, rock musical with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni/James Rado, and music by Galt MacDermot. The show, with epic, recognizable hits like Age of Aquarius, Good Morning Starshine, and Let the Sun Shine In, evolved out of the hippie counterculture, anti-Vietnam protests, and sexual revolution of the late 1960's. This year marks the 50th Anniversary since opening on Broadway, and five decades later, the themes are still relevant today and the perfect fit for this vanguard establishment.

Cutting Edge's stated mission is to take community theater to a whole new level by placing themselves as an important voice in regional theatre that focuses on productions that provide audiences with a healthy perspective of our cultural differences and similarities. Owner Brian Fontenot has been innovating a new spin on community theater for over a decade now, so it is no surprise that he would welcome a show like Hair to not only entertain audiences with superb local talent and a famous director, (we will get to her in a moment), but also to tackle topics with shows that make people think and strive to do better! When Hair first debuted, it shocked audiences with its use of profanity, depiction of drug use, nudity, sexuality, racial issues, and overall irreverence, but it also broke new ground in musical theatre by defining the genre of "rock musical," using a racially integrated cast, and inviting the audience onstage for a "Be-In" finale. The show's ultra-creative and talented choreographer, Kristi-Anne Lyons (Suzzanah) says, "I think Hair is still so Impactful today because the issues are still so relevant! We are a lot more open today, but these issues are still in at the forefront of society, and we still have work to do to become more accepting of each other."

Hair tells the story of the "tribe", a group of politically active, long-haired hippies of the "Age of Aquarius" living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War. Members of the cast said they literally became a real tribe during rehearsals, and their leader, affectionately called, "Mama Bean" is none other than their mega-talented Director/Musical Director, Lauren Turner, who also portrays Ronnie. Turner is no stranger to the stage, performing on the Northshore since grade school, she was featured on Season 10 of American Idol, after making it into the Top 12 female performers. Turner is grateful to Fontenot for giving her this opportunity to grow right here in her home town, and she is the perfect example of why theater fans should not flinch when it comes to supporting local community theater. There is great talent in every small town, and sometimes while watching local theater, we can forget we hadn't caught that plane to New York. "This whole cast is electric, says Jennifer Gesvantner, (Jennie) who studied Acting and Musical Theater at Tulane University, and has been seen in scores of local productions said, "This is a super cast pulling talent from several surrounding cities.

I have known Lauren Turner since third grade, and she continues to amaze me. What I love about community theater is that it's your aunts and uncles, and your neighbor or somebody that you went to high school with, are doing what they love to do. I feel that most people can't get that satisfaction once they hit adulthood that we stop trying to have fun and just enjoy ourselves."

This show is a lot of fun for all. The score certainly has toe-tapping memories that parents of millennials may have to refrain themselves from singing aloud, and the young people will certainly enjoy the story and identify with the social issues that arise. The main character, Claude Bukowski played by Hedrick Deshotel, III is originally from Basile Louisiana, his good friend Berger played by Bryton Gunther, a tenor from New Orleans, and their roommate Sheila portrayed by Cat Foerster, along with their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves, and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war and their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude must decide whether to resist the draft as his friends have done, or to succumb to the pressures of his parents (and conservative America) to serve in Vietnam, compromising his pacifist principles and risking his life.

Jeremy Lloyd who portrays Hud in the show explained, "The relevance of Hair today is many of the issues the society faces in 1968, we still face today in 2018; issues such as racial equality, equal rights for the LGTBQ community, equal rights for women, freedom of religion, etc. I believe this show highlights how far we come as society, but how far we have yet to go!" Gesvantner goes on, "I believe that seeing something on stage live can really get you get caught up in the what the story is, and the audience in a small setting, starts to feel that they are part of it. There won't be a dry eye in the house at the end. Theater absolutely has the power to change the world, and if people are looking for entertainment with a message, this is a great place to start."

"I want the audience to walk away with the message that no matter what our ethnic background, sexual orientation, political stance, 'We are ALL HUMAN!' Nothing separates us as a society more than Labels! Take them away, and we can focus more on "Love Peace, Freedom, and Happiness!" proclaimed Lloyd, who travels daily from Hammond, said some of the content he had to deal with was challenging at first, but he feels the ultimate message the audience comes away with can open a dialogue that is much needed today. "Some people might absolutely feel uncomfortable, but if people feel nervous that means the show is making them think, and that's a good thing!" says, Gesvantner. "We made a concerted effort to grow as our own "tribe" while rehearsing. We held our own personal retreat where we each shared our challenges and struggles, so that we can better understand what the other is facing." "The sharing was beautiful," says Lyons, "I think commUNITY theater is so important and valuable in so many respects. I have met so many amazing and beautiful souls, we are now like family!" Shylanda Pam who portrays Abraham Lincoln in the song "Abie Baby" and tribe member, Emmaretta recounts how the cast took their time to find meaning in the heart of this show, "We are still daring to be what our parents and grandparents weren't. Managing my time as a full time spouse, mother, student, and employee, made it challenging, but this show has so much potential power to affect change, and what a gift to be on the stage and make people laugh, cry, or sigh... those are the best rewards. I feel confident that this same meaning and relevance will translate to the audience members."

The namesake song "Hair" and it's sing-a-long lyrics are certainly more about the follicles growing on our heads. Berger's words are each metaphors for how different and splendorous each one of us is, and each one of us deserves to fly in the wind independently. "I find that it's most rewarding if I can touch at least one person's life, says Gesvantner. "If I can look out in that audience and I can see one person having an emotional connection to what I am doing on stage I know I'm doing something that I'm supposed to be doing on this earth. And that itself is the most rewarding for me as a performer,"

"Community Theater is a beautiful outlet to showcase local talent! Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to travel to Broadway or even the larger theaters in New Orleans, which is right in our back yard; so it gives the community a chance to see some top notch productions right here," says Lloyd. So come on theater fans, support your local theaters wherever you are, come out and see this spectacular production and talented cast of Hair. The show definitely has mature content, but one jaw dropping aspect of the production from 50 years ago is not part of this production. Cutting Edge says you won't have to worry about the "light shining in" as the team decided to forgo the "nudity" scene in order to keep the discussion on all the other important issues in the show. "The content is definitely for ages 16 and up," says Lyons, "but we are proud that we offer many productions all year long which are for all ages, and we are also proud of Open Arms for the Arts Project for K-12 students who come from financially challenged households, so that they have the opportunity to explore the arts. Supporting local theater is more than just enjoying a show. The resources help create more art and improve our society by helping those less fortunate."

Hair runs at Cutting Edge Theater at 767 Robert Blvd in Slidell, LA for the next three weekends with shows on Friday (8pm)August 3,10,17, Saturday (8pm) August 4,11,18, and Sunday (2pm).5,12,19th. Tickets can be purchased at www.cuttingedgetheater.com or by calling (985) 649-3727

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From This Author Angelle Albright

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