Those “Days of Aquarius” Amaze Local Audience
Reviewed by Tom Jones
July 9, 2017
Broadway audiences and critics either cheered or were aghast in the late ‘60s when a hippie musical about the sexual revolution, profanity, using mind-bending drugs, and opposition to the Viet Nam War opened in New York. Most agreed that the music was nothing short of phenomenal, but an ever-so-brief glance at full nudity caused concern. Following an off-Broadway opening in 1967 at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, the show opened on Broadway the next year with substantial revisions More than a dozen 13 new songs were added and the show ran for an amazing l,750 performances. Music is by Galt MacDermot, book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado.
Living in the West, I had read about the New York show, but was curious as to why such a controversial look at America had spared such interest. I bought the cast recording, and was knocked out with what I heard. I dashed to see it the next time I was in London to determine if the production was worth the hoopla it generated. It was.
The terrific music is currently on stage at Midtown. The score is as pulsating as ever. The show looks terrific, sounds even better. The plot continues to revolve around hippies protesting — protesting virtually everything in their lives. The hippies have created a “tribe” where they can emotionally and physically love one another and rant and rave about everyone else. Claude, played by Tyler Hodges, is one of the group, but is hesitant to commit to burning his draft card – the ultimate act of defiance of the time. Hodges, a newcomer to Midtown Arts, is a sensation. He is torn between his basic decency and the encouragement of his friends to completely immerse himself in their group love and anger.
At the conclusion of Act I, Claude sings of his tribulation with an incredibly heartfelt, “Where Do I Go?” While he is emotionally torn, other members of the tribe are eager for him to join them with their “bare it all” approach. Unlike the production in London where “baring it all” was not all-inclusive and brief, in Midtown it is a prolonged view of nearly the entire cast. I am not certain why this idea is important to the total message of the show. It is disarming and shocking.
The anti-everything message does become annoying. Act II is a rehash over why everyone is protesting, and includes some over-the-top mind-bending scenes with the tribe “high” on whatever drugs they can find. Claude’s war experiences are seen through hallucinogenic visions brought on by drugs gone bad. Group orgies are the mode.
The music, however, remains as wonderful as ever. Many melodies continue to be well known – some 50 years after they were introduced: “Aquarius” “I Got Life,” “Hair,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Where Do I Go,” “What a Piece of Work is Man,” “Good Morning, Starshine,” and ultimately, “Let the Sun Shine In.”
Many of the performers are new to MAC. They are an enormously talented group with Hodges, Michael Hajjar, Stephanie Wasser, Bryan Staggers and Devin J. Hall in leading roles. Nine others successfully complete the “Tribe.” Of particular interest are the aerial acrobatics. Director/choreographer Ryan Hazelbaker worked with Cassidy Cousineau and Adam Bourque to dangle from two silks (rope-like cloths hanging from the ceiling) which become an integral part of the set. The effect is like seeing a mini Cirque Du Soleil on stage!
Dinner theatre patrons are accustomed to a “down” time between completing the meal and the beginning of the show. There are the usual commercials and announcements of birthdays, anniversaries, welcoming specific groups, etc. “Hair” itself took several minutes to get into gear. Cast members wandered around the stage. Hodges as Claude sat center stage without saying anything. Tribe Leader Berger (Michael Hajjar) chatted with the audience – nothing being heard beyond the first couple of rows. The pulsating music finally arrived. The long delay between dinner and actual music, however, resulted in my initial interest lagging in what turns out to be a brilliantly-interesting show.
“Hair” continues to be a show for the ages – now celebrating its 50th year with the exuberant version on Stage at Midtown through August 26. Ryan Hazelbaker directed and choreographed the production, with music direction by Paul Falk. The cast is very talented. The orchestra, lighting, and costumes are all excellent. This is a “tough” show – not the family oriented “The Sound of Music” or “Mary Poppins,” but in a style on its own, verging on soft porn. “Hair” the American tribal love-rock musical is in town, on stage this summer at Midtown Arts Center.
Midtown Arts Center
3750 South Mason Street
Fort Collins, CO 80525
To: August 26, 2017