April 29, 2002
'Hair' grooves to the tunes of the 60s
by Deborah Stone
Arts and Entertainment
The all-new production of "Hair," directed by David Armstrong, recently lit up the stage at The 5th Avenue Theatre, taking audiences on an electrifying trip down memory lane to a crazy and turbulent time in America's history. Often described as the "American tribal-love rock musical," "Hair" originally exploded onto the Broadway stage at the Biltmore Theatre in 1968 and became an instant hit and cultural icon.
The last time the musical was presented at one of Seattle's larger venues was in 1969 by a resident non-touring company at the Moore Theatre. Its controversial elements, including implicit approval of the long-haired, drug-using, rebellious hippie lifestyle, as well as nudity and raunchy language, kept it from being performed more often in the past several decades.
The 5th Avenue Theatre took on the challenge of mounting such a production, knowing full well the risks involved in reviving a show that many saw as relevant only to a specific time period. The results show that "Hair" has timeless appeal, to both baby-boomers who were a part of the hippie protest movement and to those not even born during that era.
Audiences who had the opportunity to catch Armstrong's revival of this ground-breaking show were treated to a driving, high-octane production, performed by an energetic and spirited "tribe" of 23 actors.
Set to chart-topping rock music, including such well-known favorites as, "Let the Sunshine In," "Aquarius," "Easy to be Hard," "Hare Krishna," "Good Morning Starshine" and "Manchester England," "Hair" pulsated with the hedonistic and spiritual values worshipped in the songs' lyrics.
Instead of a traditional plot, the show focuses on a theme highlighting the attitudes of the hippie youth culture. It provides a realistic look at flower children in all their glory as they pay homage to drugs, sex and peace, while protesting authority, war, racism and sexual inhibition.
The 5th Ave's production was lively and colorful, especially the wonderfully authentic costumes loaded with fringe, macramˇ, patchwork and beads (designed by Bradley Reed).
Cast standouts included Cheyenne Jackson as Berger, the leader of the pack; Louis Hobson, as Claude, the wanna-be Brit; Rodney Hicks, as the bold Jimi Hendrix clone Hud; Kathleen M. Young in the role of the teenybopper Crissy; Lisa Estridge-Gray as Dionne; and Ben Schrader in the role of Woof.
These multi-talented individuals belted out rollicking numbers with exuberance and youthful fervor (however, at times the amplification was to such an extreme that it distorted lyrics), as they romped around and grooved to irreverent tune after tune.
It is clear that years later "Hair" still has the ability to turn audiences on with its powerful messages and passionate idealism.
Next up at The 5th Avenue Theatre is the world premiere of "Hairspray," opening May 30. For ticket information, call 206-292-ARTS.