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Reviewed by Karen Schwartzkopf
I was born in the late sixties – when Hair was first introduced – and grew up about as far away from the world of flower children as a kid could. As the youngest of six, however, I did have an open door into the world of music of an older sister who was twelve years my senior.
Between her and radio favorites “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” and the show’s title track, “Hair,” I somehow managed to absolutely fall in love with the music from the Broadway musical. Right along with Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. So yes, I listened to the 8-track, and later, bought the cassette, and the CD of the Broadway cast from Hair – which I also formatted to MP3 for listening at home.
I’d never seen the 1979 film (mostly because of a general dislike of Treat Williams) but I had always heard that the film and the stage version were very different. Now I know why. Plot.
That is to say Hair, on stage, doesn’t have one. And that’s okay. At Firehouse Theatre, Director Jase Smith has assembled a lively and accomplished cast of vocal and dance talent. And as I told my husband – who admittedly is not the fan I am – that is exactly what he needed to effectively stage this iconic musical in Richmond. On the night we saw Hair, Smith’s parents were in the audience. After he gave a shout-out to them and all the other hippies in attendance, I glanced around and realized that yeah, there were a lot of former flower children there that night. Surely, they were not disappointed. Reading the young director’s notes later was great fun, too.
Though it’s odd to think of Hair as a period piece, that’s exactly what it is. There’s hardly any plot and very little point, but a lot of wildly entertaining performances. The show focuses on Claude, a young man from Oklahoma torn between a group of hippies (called the “tribe”) and his uptight parents who want him to get a job and if drafted, serve in Vietnam. As he waffles between disappearing into the haze of the drug culture that produced the slogan “Make Love, Not War” and accepting his call to service, Clade also navigates a three-way relationship with political activist Sheila, played by Grey Garrett, whom I last saw as Judy Garland at Swift Creek Mill, and anarchist Berger, played by Nicklas Aliff. Matt Polson puts a charming spin (and a gorgeous wig) on the innocent transplant Claude. His vocal talents stand out in “I Got Life” and “Where Do I Go?” to close the first act.
Carolyn Meade’s voice fills the room to start and close the show, while along the way, Morgan Meadows as Crissy (who I last saw in Life Could Be a Dream, also at the Mill) was a standout with one of, if not my favorite tune from Hair, “Frank Mills.”
Benjamin Burke’s meager stage was a few platforms and a lot of rugs, basically non-existent, as Smith explained at the beginning of the show, it was scrapped to prepare for an upcoming production. Starrene Foster’s contemporary and high-energy choreography effectively channeled everything from an orgy to a peace demonstration to a funeral.
I had considered seeing this with my 17-year-old as she knows the music well, but in the end treated my honey to a date night. I think he was the right choice. There was some nudity – Berger’s backside in the first act and a tasteful disrobing by the whole cast to end act one. But in the dimly lit house it was all very manageable. I wasn’t shifting in my seat, embarrassed or concerned about the 65-year-old former flower child in front of me. Instead I was tapping my toes for the majority of the evening and enjoying a well-paced entertaining musical review about a slice of life I had no experience with whatsoever. And after the finale, the grandfather in front of me was on stage dancing with the “tribe,” clearly happy to be there and very much in touch with his hippie roots as he “Let the Sunshine In.”
The show has been extended through August 2 at Firehouse Theatre Project. For showtimes and tickets, go here: Hair at Firehouse Theatre.
[Photo credit: Laura Cliburn]