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HAIR SHINES AT STUDIO THEATRE

by Mike Cutino
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By: Barbara Anne Kirshner

It’s a time of great unrest with wars plaguing our planet. There are anti-war protests happening in the streets and on college campuses throughout our great nation with one resonating theme, a cry for PEACE! Does this sound like today’s news? Yes, it is, but most unfortunately it was the news back in the 1960’s and the message of the rock musical Hair now playing at Studio Theater in Lindenhurst.

The book and lyrics for Hair were written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot. It debuted on October 17, 1967, at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and opened on Broadway in April 1968 through July 1, 1972, enjoying 1,750 performances. The screen adaptation was released in 1979. This work is considered groundbreaking creating the genre of rock musical. In 2009, the Broadway revival earned the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Revival of a Musical. 

Many of the songs from the show became top 10 hits. In 1969, The Cowsills had their most successful single with Hair. Other songs that became hits were Aquarius, Let the Sunshine, and Good Morning, Starshine.

Though this show has some similarities to what is happening in the world today, it is also a time capsule for the turbulent late 1960’s when war was happening in Vietnam and conscription was being protested. The Studio Theatre production immediately immerses us in the peace, love, drugs and flower power generation with actors strategically circulating throughout the audience offering long-stemmed flowers and gentle smiles, then they scurry onstage with a rousing Aquarius belted out by Dionne (Ayana Jane) and the tribe. Jane’s vocals are strong and spirited as they wrap around every song she sings including Ain’t Got No, Air and Abie, Baby.

The story of Hair centers around a group of long-haired hippies called the tribe living in New York City. Claude (David Reyes), Berger (Jason Stephen Kopp) and Sheila (Rita Sarli) are roommates that hang out with a rebellious group of friends. They speak out against the war, burn their draft cards, take drugs and are at odds with their conservative parents.

Claude (David Reyes), replete with deliberately fake English accent, declares himself to be “the most beautiful beast in the forest from Manchester, England,” then breaks into a lively Manchester, England. But we quickly see he is struggling with the decision to resist the draft as his friends have done or serve in Vietnam, something that is against his pacifist principles, knowing full-well that he will be risking his own life in the end. When Reyes sings Where Do I Go, we see a vulnerable and confused Claude and our hearts go out to him. 

In contrast to the conflicted Claude, Berger (Jason Steven Kopp) is free-spirited and playful. He speaks directly to the audience likening himself to a psychedelic teddy bear and his rendition of Donna is so much fun.

Rita Sarli’s Sheila is a passionate protester, a student at N.Y.U. and in love with Berger. We sympathize for her when Berger takes a present, a yellow shirt, and rips it to shreds. Sarli’s Easy To Be Hard is done with so much intensity. She returns with her gorgeous soprano in Good Morning, Sunshine.

The character Hud as performed by Rohan Lawrence is a charismatic and sensuous presence. When he announces, “I am the president of the United States of Love,” we believe him!

Jack Sawula gives Woof a gentle soul making him the epitome of the peace, love generation. He proclaims, “I love flowers and the sun and trees and the moon. I love you. We are all love…” His irreverent song, Sodomy, is hysterical as is his all-consuming love for Mick Jagger.

The pregnant Jeanie (Julie Stewart) is in love with Claude though, as she puts it, she was “knocked up by some crazy speed freak.” She explains all the romantic entanglements with “I’m hung up on Claude, Sheila’s hung up on Berger, Berger is hung up everywhere. Claude is hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger.” 

My Conviction is a funny bit with Morgan Faye Neuhedel as Margaret Mead and an over the top soprano. Neuhedel returns as Mom and member of the tribe. Crissy (Kayla Murray) charms with a soaring soprano as she takes on the song Frank Mills.

Director, Rick Grossman, shared that a great part of his job as director on this period piece was to educate the cast in all things late 60’s and by the emotion emitted from this cast, it appears the effort was successful. Hair was considered astonishing for many reasons when it came out and one shocking bit was the nude scene at the end of Act I which was tastefully handled here through dim lighting and not quite so “nude.” Grossman has assembled an exuberant ensemble who attacks each song with gusto. His use of the entire space on and off stage keeps the fluidity and energy through to the end.

Dance and Musical numbers staged by Tyler Patrick Matos and associate choreography Morgan Faye Neuhedel are beautifully synchronized and crates high energy. The tableaus created when joining the entire cast center stage makes for lovely visuals.

Costumes and wigs by Chrissy Van Syckle give the right feel to the 60’s hippie garb with all that long hair, fringe vests, headbands and maxi skirts. 

Scenic design with etched flowers and peace sign against a gray backdrop makes for an easy flow of action. Lighting by John Vaiano is at times bright then melds into reds and blues to fit the moods of each scene.

Hair is a joyful romp into the nostalgic 60’s. Catch it now through May 26th at Manes Studio Theatre of Long Island in Lindenhurst.

WWW.STUDIOTHEATRELONGISLAND.COM 141 S. Wellwood Avenue Lindenhurst NY 11757 631-226-8400