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BWW Interviews: Swapping Stories with the Stars of HAIR

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This Christmas get ready to let in some much needed sunshine as the boys and girls of the critically acclaimed revival of HAIR bring their peace, love and flower power to the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto for a limited holiday engagement.

The production won Best Musical (Revival) at the 2009 Tony Awards and has been getting rave reviews as it has toured across North America.  Original Broaday cast members Gavin Creel and Will Swenson were both seen last year in Toronto (Gavin in concert promoting his solo material and Will in the pre-Broadway run of Priscilla Queen of the Desert) and Toronto gets to see brand new tribe members! Now two new long-haired fellas take on the roles of Berger and Claude understudy for the Toronto engagement of the tour.

Steel Burkhardt (Berger) and Marshal Kennedy Carolan (Claude Understudy) were both on hand before the show opened to greet the press. BWW was thrilled to spend an afternoon with the boys taking photos in the gorgeous Royal Alex and having a no-holds barred conversation about everything and anything, including marriage equality, the Occupy movements, It Gets Better and Kim Kardashian:

Is this your first time in Toronto?

MKC: Yep! I’m from California originally and live in New York now.  Of course so far I’ve only seen Toronto through a cab window so can’t really comment on the city yet.  I’m a bit worried since I hear it gets a lot colder here so I’ve packed all my jackets and scarves!

Since you will be spending the holidays in Toronto, do you have any special plans for how you will celebrate?

MKC: We are having a Christmas Eve dinner hosted by the company and then we get Christmas Day off so the cast is getting together and doing a Secret Santa.  I think Toronto at the holidays will be fun, it’s an urban city so in that sense we feel at home.

SB: I’m getting a tree and going all out! I’m going to decorate and celebrate with my dog. She’s a little French Bulldog named Luna, who will probably end up eating most of the tree and the ornaments.

Do you find as actors you miss getting to have “traditional” holiday celebrations?

SB: This is actually the first major holiday I’ve missed with my family so I’m not really sure how it’s going to go.  But even when working on Broadway, the tough thing is the weekend shows.  We do five shows in a weekend, so we don’t have the typical Friday/Saturday nights that most people get.  Basically any friends who are in the ‘business’ you never get to see.  And of course you can’t do a normal dinner because you have to make that 7:30 call time, so we always end up eating at 5pm with the early birds!

This production had a rabid fan base in NYC, with many fans coming back over and over again.  Has it been similar on the road?

MKC: We have had some people who have come out to over half the shows when we’ve been in a city for just one week.  It’s amazing. And we have people who travel just to see us as we hit different cities.  We had one guy from Liverpool who works for the BBC and he has come to NYC, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and San Diego.  That’s dedication.

Now you guys are aware that Toronto had a production of HAIR fairly recently that wasn’t very well received…

SB: In 1969 you had a great one! Or a smaller one not too long ago…

Nope, this was a large scale production that really never took off.  Given the poor reaction the city had to that show, tell us what makes this production different? Why should Torontonians come out to see this version of HAIR?

MKC: Well there are a lot of interpretations of the show because it’s something you can do in so many ways, so you have to try it out to see if you like it!

SB: Exactly. NYC did a production a few years back with buzzed heads.  Everyone had buzzed heads and no one had hair, not even the girls.  Not quite sure how that one worked out.

MKC: Our production won a lot of awards in NYC though so hopefully that proves to Toronto that it’s worth seeing.

SB: And I don’t read reviews, I stopped doing that in college when I realized just how bad it can be for an actor. But I’ve been told that we are doing really well across the country.  Especially in major markets like Chicago, New York, LA and San Francisco.  So hopefully Toronto will say “hey, they did alright there so maybe we should check it out!”

And it doesn’t hurt that you guys are so cute…

MKC: Exactly! Come see us because we’re cute!

SB: And you get to see a lot of us!

HAIR is a show with many political themes and undertones, do you consider yourselves politically active? And have you had much involvement in the recent “Occupy” movements?

MKC: We are pretty politically involved.  Our original cast marched on Washington for the Equality March in 2010…

SB: And our cast continues that on the road as well.  We often do our own things in various cities where we will stage events to try and raise money for Broadway Impact.  That’s an organization founded by Gavin Creel (who played Claude in the Broadway revival of HAIR) and it has since gone nationwide.  It’s great that we can support that.

Do you think some of your involvement in these issues is because you are in a show like HAIR?

MKC: Certainly the show helps, but also being an actor and being involved in the arts at all plays a big role in things.

SB: Especially an issue like marriage equality.  Even though it’s a bit cliché there are a lot more  homosexual men and women in the arts than in other fields.  So if you’re involved in this business you are around them a lot more and you don’t think of it the same way others might.  For some people it’s mind blowing when they enter this business because up until that point in their life, homosexuality was almost demonized to a certain extent.  Then they come and they see that homosexuals are in fact normal people just like everyone else they know, and it’s eye opening. 

Then there’s the issue of how marriage equality will affect the sanctity of marriage – I mean c’mon, hasn’t Kim Kardashian damaged that enough already?

SB: Exactly! *laughs* Traditional marriage divorce rates are going up and up every year and yet the fight for marriage equality continues.  It’s ridiculous.

MKC: And frustrating.  With divorce rates where they are and continuing to rise, it’s hard to believe that people still use the “sanctity of marriage” argument at all.

SB: As for the “Occupy” movement, we’ve been around that a lot, especially in major cities like Denver, San Diego and San Francisco.  We are sympathetic with their cause, especially as actors because once this tour is done we may be out of work ourselves.  What I always say, when talking about the movement, is that I look up to them so much, because they are hopefully going to make some real progress in our country and our world.  Just like people did back in the sixties when HAIR is set.

So again, do you think that you feel a connection to those involved in the “Occupy” movement more because you are in the arts of because you are involved in HAIR specifically?

MKC: I think HAIR lit a fire under a lot of us with regards to marriage equality for sure, and to a certain extend the “Occupy” movement as well.

SB: Being involved in HAIR has inspired us to stand up and have something to say and try and make a difference.  Especially now that we are touring and fortunate enough to go around the country seeing a lot of young students.  When we hear about all those kids committing suicide because they feel like they don’t belong, it’s heart breaking.  I wasn’t even gay in school yet I remember being ridiculed so much because people thought I might be due to my love of the arts.  And it really does get better.  And you grow up, and you meet like-minded people and things change.  I hope to help kids understand that.

That’s actually something we spoke to Tony Sheldon about when he was here in Toronto promoting Priscilla…

SB: Great! Exactly, it’s such an important message, the entire It Gets Better campaign is so important.  Will Swenson, who played Berger on Broadway before me, has a really interesting story because he grew up in a very fundamentalist and strict household.  So when he became involved in the arts it really was mind blowing for him because it was the first time he was seeing that homosexuality really wasn’t demonized.  It’s just that certain people don’t understand it.

Ok boys, we’ve got to do it, what’s your Number One hair care tip?

MKC: J Crew pomade!

SB: Well, I actually do a leave in conditioning treatment once a month.  And you know, some eggs and olive oil…

MKC: … and Beer! Beer is good for your hair! And lots of ocean water… *laughter*

Well now you boys are clearly just pulling our leg - and you'll have a tough time getting your requisite ocean time while you're here in Toronto!

When and Where?

HAIR Tribe on Tour

The Royal Alexandra Theatre

Performance Schedule

December 13th-31st, 2011

Tues Dec 13 – 8 PM
Wed Dec 14 – 7 PM
Thur Dec 15 – 8 PM
Fri Dec 16 – 8 PM
Sat Dec 17 – 2 PM & 8 PM
Sun Dec 18 – 2 PM & 7 PM
Tues Dec 20 – 8 PM
Wed Dec 21 – 2 PM & 8 PM
Thur Dec 22 – 2 PM & 8 PM
Fri Dec 23 – 8 PM
Sat Dec 24 – 2 PM
Mon Dec 26 – 8 PM
Tues Dec 27 – 8 PM
Wed Dec 28 – 2 PM & 8 PM
Thur Dec 29 – 8 PM
Fri Dec 30 – 2 PM & 8 PM
Sat Dec 31 – 2 PM & 8 PM

Tickets range from $35 to $175 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at www.mirvish.com

Photos by Racheal McCaig Photography


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