BWW Review: Theatre UCF's Talented HAIR Cast 'Trips' Back to 1968
Since its Off-Broadway debut in 1967, HAIR has become a touchstone for musical theatre fans with a fondness for the decade's counter-culture revolution. Having won both a Tony and a Grammy, there is no doubt that this musical, which defies nearly every theatrical convention, has become as important a part of the genre's cannon as any of the Golden Age's classics. However, it is a show that I have just never "got." Perhaps I am too square to appreciate the flower-power sensibility, or too straight-laced to understand the era of psychedelic drugs and free love. Nonetheless, the score by Galt MacDermot (music), James Rado (lyrics), and Gerome Ragni (lyrics) contains some of the theatre's best "rock" songs, including pop cross-overs "Aquarius," "Good Morning Starshine," and "Let the Sunshine In." Theatre UCF's production of "The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical," which runs through October 25th, might not have been able to make me appreciate the show's trippy conceit, but it did confirm that the program has just as much talent as nearly any of Central Florida's professional theatres.
The show starts before the scheduled curtain time as members of "The Tribe" mingle with the audience; always uncomfortable for those of us who break out into hives at the mere mention of audience participation. Despite my discomfort, it was enlightening to see just how committed and invested in this world the 28-student cast was. With few occasional exceptions, the entire group was remarkably talented. The majority of the cast remains on stage for most of the show, and as each new soloist emerges, they continue to impress.
While HAIR is essentially a group of interconnected vignettes and songs, only some of which rely on a coherent plot, what is there revolves around a small group of friends at the center of a larger collective embracing the "Age of Aquarius." Claude (Christian Barba) is the group's defacto heart, despite the fact that he is struggling to abandon the more conservative expectations that his parents and society has for him. His best friend, and the group's unofficial leader, Berger (Tyler Beauregard) is far more committed to the cause, and routinely pressures Claude to burn his draft card and stand up for the ideals in which he believes.
Though Jeanie (Kristi Mills) is pregnant with the child of "some crazy speed freak," she is in love with Claude, and is usually the only one that can see just how heavily decisions are weighing on him. Claude and Berger are roommates with Sheila (Lindsey Wells), an NYU student committed to change via civil disobedience. Sheila is in love with Berger, but her feelings are not reciprocated.
Woof (Gabe Friedman), who holds a not-so-secret crush on Mick Jagger, and Hud (Raleigh Mosely), the African-American "President of the United States of Love," round out the Tribe's core group.
Beauregard has an incredibly impressive voice, and his commanding stage presence makes you believe that he could inspire this group of young hippies. Every time she sings, Wells gives you goosebumps, but her Sheila never seems to be a fully-integrated member of the Tribe. Since the character often comes and goes from the group between classes and protests, it's unclear if her subtle resistance to completely let go is character driven or not, but every time she is on stage, the show is better for it.
Though I think the character is supposed to be slightly more burnt-out, Mills' Jeanie brings a goofy comedy that the show often needs, and like most of her castmates, Mills is tremendously well-voiced. While Woof and Hud aren't as fleshed out as some of the others, Friedman and Mosely both create interesting characters and are some of the best singers in the cast.
Unfortunately, Barba is not as charismatic as you would expect a Claude to be, and his voice doesn't rise to the level of most of the other Tribe members. However, as the second act focuses on Claude's struggle of whether or not to report to the Army after being drafted, Barba shows more of the depth that the character requires.
Additionally, the sweet-voiced Jennifer Totcky stands out as the love-sick and absent-minded Crissy searching for "Frank Mills." And, Fo'i Meleah blew me away on a number of songs, especially the iconic "Aquarius."Jarrett Poore is also fantastic as "Margaret Mead."
Perhaps because of the Tribe's large numbers, the relationships of the featured characters felt under-developed, robbing the more dramatic second act of some of its power. There were also times when the narrative seemed to be lost amongst the use of such a large cast. An extended, "chemically-induced," hallucination in Act II was especially difficult to follow. Those minor issues aside, director Earl D. Weaver showed an incredibly sure hand in keeping the show brisk and bright, while highlighting the immense talent at his disposal.
The set, designed by Christopher McKinney, was incredibly cool as well. With a great, live band upstage center and a huge dream catcher overlooking the action, the design incorporated Native American symbols that enhanced the show's tribal feel. Alex Anderson's lighting design was also impactful.
While I might not be completely taken by the Age of Aquarius, I can appreciate talent when I see it, and with HAIR, Theatre UCF again proves why some of the best theatre in Central Florida happens on their campus. To purchase tickets to see HAIR, visit Theatre UCF's website or call 407-823-1500. Despite the fact that HAIR has been a cultural phenomenon for nearly 50 years, it bears repeating that the show contains profanity, drug use, sexual situations, and nudity. Parental discretion is most certainly advised.
Did you take the 'trip' with HAIR's tribe? Let me know what you thought in the comments below, or by "Liking" and following BWW Orlando on Facebook and Twitter using the buttons below. You can also chat with me about the show on Twitter @BWWMatt. If you want to follow along with my "366 in 366" articles, you can check out #BWW366in366 on Twitter.
1) The Tribe: Tony Firriolo | Theatre UCF