When the musical “Hair” first premiered off-Broadway in 1967, it rocked the landscape of traditional musical theatre. “Hair” polarized audiences due to it’s frank and explicit use of drugs, profanity and sexuality. Not to mention the political themes, irreverence toward the American Flag, and the now famous nude scene. “Hair” was political theatre turned into a rock musical. It made the statement that so many during the hippie movement were so passionate about, and it was in-your-face and bold about every choice. This was the height of the Vietnam War and “Hair,” much like the hippie movement itself was about so much more than tie-dye and peace signs.
“Hair” is an incredibly bold and courageous choice, then, for a company like Evergreen Players, and the risk seems to be paying off in terms of box office sales. Enthusiastic crowds of former hippies and rock musical fans have been filling the welcoming space in Evergreen, proving that audiences are ready for risky and less-traditional theatre.
The loose plot of “Hair” centers around the story of Claude, Berger, Sheila and a group of friends (known as a tribe) that struggle to balance their views of peace and love with the political climate of the late 1960’s. As everyone in the tribe burns their draft cards, Claude is unsure if he should resist the draft along with his friends, or follow the pressures of his parents and serve in the military. It is a concern that many young Americans of this time faced, and a message of peace that is still relevant today.
The music in “Hair” is almost as legendary as the musical itself. Well-known numbers like “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” and “Good Morning Starshine” have taken on musical lives of their own, bridging the gap from musical into popular music. Unfortunately, the space in Evergreen is large enough that this show is begging for mics. Part of the draw of a show like this one is the loud, energetic power that the rock music brings, and sadly the space was not up to the task. Much of the music felt weak and many of the meaningful lyrics were lost.
While many of the vocalists struggled to find the right notes, a few did stand out with some stellar performances. As Sheila, Jacquie Jo Billings brought a lot of meaning and heart to her songs, and truly wowed the audience with “Good Morning Starshine.” JR Cody Schuyler as Berger was high-energy and enthusiastic, making him fascinating to watch, though he did struggle with some of the music. Patrick Thomas Wills brought realism and palpable struggles to the role of Claude, making him truly stand out in the tribe. And lastly, Josh Rigo and Theo Wilson as Woof and Hud were also strong in their respective roles.
While much of “Hair” speaks for itself, the largest difficulty with director Brenda Billing’s production lies in the content itself. Far too many young people of today think that the hippie movement was not much more than a fashion choice, yet the youth of the late 1960’s struggled with some truly difficult political beliefs. Sadly, I didn’t get the sense that much of this cast truly understood what this musical is saying. Though, a few of the actors did seem to get it, specifically Patrick Thomas Wills and Jacquie Jo Billings who both brought meaningful performances to the stage.
“Hair” was about much more than just peace and love. It was about counter-culture, rebellion, and personal identity in a time when the entire country was polarized due to the war. Today, some 40 years after the show was written, these themes are still just as strong and just as relevant as ever. Few shows in the history of musical theatre can keep the same powerful message decades later. Evergreen Players production may struggle with some of the specifics, but if standing ovation from the audience is any indication, then people are still moved by this courageous piece.
Evergreen Players presents
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical
Playing through Aug. 5
FriSat at 7:30 p.m.; Sun at 2 p.m.
$20 Adults; $16 seniors (60+)/Students
303-674-4934 or on line at www.evergreenplayers.org
Center/Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive, Evergreen, CO.
Parental Discretion Advisory / Adult themes and content
While many find this show suitable for young adults, parental discretion is advised.
There is a dimly lit 20-second scene with nudity that is non-sexual in nature.