Review of the theater department’s performance of Hair

Review of the theater department’s performance of Hair

Evelyn Kent, Staff Writer

Last weekend was the opening of the Macalester theater department’s production of Hair, directed by Chair of Theater and Dance Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, which is originally titled: Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. It was written and produced by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot, and first produced for the Broadway stage by Michael Butler in 1967. 

While there were issues with the decisions of the production, the show was held together by many talented Macalester performers, as well as some very fun and lively songs, dance scenes and acting. The show is double casted, meaning there are two different people playing each lead character, and when not playing the lead, the other actors become a part of the ensemble cast. When I saw the show it was the blue cast, starring Marisa Luft as Berger, Eva Markham as Cheryl, Louie Siegel as Claude, Obsune Usso as Hud, Amanda Jackson as Jeanie, Ava Nuñez as Ronny, Anna Devine as Sheila and Andrew Lee as Woof. 

The original musical is known for its themes of “hippy counterculture,” sexual revolutions, drug use and anti-Vietnam war protest and famous for at the time being scandalous and risque, while confronting topics of American imperialism, sex, drug use, love and war. Some productions include fully nude, sexually explicit scenes and a large amount of drug use. The musical was originally produced with one-third of the roles being for Black actors, and multiple scenes and songs are centered around Black experience. At the time, the musical was considered radical in its (lesser but still existent) stereotyping of Black characters. However, it cannot be ignored that Hair was written and produced by white men, who created a musical and wrote a script that had explicitly sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and racist line and themes. For some reason Macalester decided this was the musical to do. 

Macalester’s production of Hair was different from the original, to say the least. To start, the original musical is approximately three hours long, however Macalesters production was only about an hour long, due to the omission of many songs and scenes which were removed for a variety of reasons. The director’s decision to cut a large part of the musical may have been due to racist, sexist and xenophobic song and lines, including multiple songs in the original script who explicitly list stereotypes and slurs. While the removal of much of the content was important to not continue the violence and discrimination, this was not explained to the audience or mentioned in the program. The amount of content removed also left the audience with many questions of the plot, and left the production as a whole incomplete and at times very confusing. Certain plot points were explored and then never returned to for the rest of the show, many characters were never introduced and the relationships between characters were poorly explored. 

The show begins with a montage of news coverage and video clips, played on at least six screens on all sides of the theater. The montage started with recent election news moving back in time, highlighting the themes of war, protest, politics and more from each decade, back into the 1960s, where the play begins. 

From an artistic perspective the performance was fun, interesting and left you with many questions. The set was innovative, including the manipulation of the black box theater seats into a triangle orientation, with part of the stage between two halves of the audience. The set included ceiling height screens depicting images of multiple characters’ draft cards and a set of constructed steps, allowing for movement in dance numbers and separation of the stage into multiple scenes when necessary. The live band, including saxophone, drums, trumpet, bass, guitar and keyboard added lively and fun depth to the musical numbers and were very important to the full sound. The band sat behind one of the screens, partially obscured, allowing them to be a part of the production without taking away any of the attention from the actors. 

Throughout the show, the musical numbers and monologues were the highlight of the show. “Aquarius” performed by the full cast was a lively, very “70s inspired” number with funky choreography. “Sodomy” performed by Woof/Andrew Lee, was a highly sexually explicit song that got the entire audience laughing. Finally, “Good Morning Starshine” led by Sheila(Anna Devine) and the cast, included some fun harmonies and extremely high notes by supporting parts, portraying a goofy but enjoyable time by the cast.

Overall the themes of the resistance against the Vietnam War and draft evasion were explored but mostly superficially, with characters portrayed as only desiring to get high and be in love, instead of going to war. Hair noticeably lacks the perspective of Vietnamese people, and oversimplifies the many real events of the US civil rights movement.

Conflicts between the theater department and the copyright of the musical may have occurred, because the official program states “The show you are about to see is not, and was not, approved by the authors of Hair and is only being allowed to continue in deference to the student participants. We sincerely hope this can be a teachable moment for our students regarding respecting intellectual property rights and maintaining artistic integrity.” The departures from the original script means this version of the play “cannot and will not be remounted anytime or under any circumstances,” so if you want to see it, this weekend is your last chance.

The show is now sold out, demonstrating the popularity of the Macalester theater department, or at least the cast members, however if you are expecting an easy to understand or cohesive plot this show is not for you. But if you are looking for a fun performance, an enjoyable musical score and cast, interesting set and costume design as well as something to think critically about, then I recommend it. 

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