Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 13, 2018

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Festival, Hair

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA
through August 11, 2018
by Stuart W. Gamble

This summer, 2 noteworthy anniversaries are being celebrated together: Berkshire Theatre Festival observes its 90th anniversary and the vintage Broadway show “Hair”, a paean to the 60’s Youth Counter-Culture Movement, turns 50. First produced by Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare Festival in 1968, “Hair” seems timely and fresh despite coming from that long-gone era. With its paper-thin storyline, robust cast, and timely music, BTF’s production moves with psychedelic speed to create an enjoyable, entertaining, and at times enlightening evening of theater.

“Hair” was revolutionary for presenting audiences with a new genre: the rock musical. The show barely takes a breath as each member of the Tribe (a group of teenage society drop-outs) sing about their aspirations, love, angst, and joy. From the spot-on opening number, the well-known “Aquarius” led by Dionne, the powerfully voiced Latoya Edwards, to the hand-clapping ensemble finale, the ubiquitous “Let The Sun Shine In,” the show’s songs earn well-deserved ovations.

Some of these songs were considered “shocking” in decades past, and the show was originally banned in Boston. They include: “Sodomy”, sung by the comedic Woof, nicely done by Will Porter, whose Mick Jagger obsession provides the show with some levity, “Black Boys/White Boys”, sung with real groove by Shayna Blass, Katie Birenboim, Sarah Sun Park, Latoya Edwards, and Ariel Blackwood, and “Walking in Space”. Such themes of open sexuality, inter-racial coupling, and LSD tripping are far more understood and accepted than they were 50 years.

The book itself is quite impressionistic, leaving the listener to follow the story through its pastiche of songs. The tribe’s de facto leaders rollickingly lead the title song: the Cheshire Cat grinned Berger (Brandon Contreras) and the ever so urbane Hud (Eric R. Williams). Two of the prettiest numbers, “Easy To Be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine,” are sweetly sung by Sheila (Kayla Foster). The na├»vely torn Claude, nicely played by Andrew Cekala, sings both the lively “I Got Life” and the poignant Act I finale “Where Do I Go.” The latter song features the cast’s notorious fully nude scene, which can easily be missed, since it’s played upstage in silhouette. Act II’s definitively Anti-Vietnam sentiment is conveyed by the satirical “Abie, Baby” (led by Dionne and Hud) and the sobering “Three-Five-Zero-Zero.”

In addition to the superbly talented cast, attention must also be paid to Director Daisy Walker’s skillful direction, Lisa Shriver’s sweeping choreography, Eric Svejcar’s seamless musical direction, and Shane E. Ballard’s earthy costumes.

Credit must also be given to the show’s creators James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot for creating something so "of the moment" that it somehow became timeless. May their show play another 50 years