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Previews
Hair

Hair
Corn Stock Theatre

August 24 - September 1
By Cara Rosson

 


The musical “Hair” premiered off-Broadway in 1967, and caused quite a controversy. The musical talked about the highly controversial Vietnam War, which was still raging and still drafting young men. It also sang about racism, environmental destruction, illegal drug use, poverty, sexism, sexual freedom, and corruption. It was written by New York actors James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who based the musical on people they knew and met, characters from their imaginations, and on the media coverage of the growing countercultural movement of young people known as “hippies.” Or “yippies,” as is referred to in one of the songs.

The musical is still provocative, though. The Tribe refers often to drug use, which is still illegal and subject for debate in our current society. They also sing about what was then termed “free love,” but that we now usually refer to as promiscuity and homosexuality. And the nude scene (or semi-nude scene as they do it here) is kept in Corn Stock's production. Director Chip Joyce does a fantastic job of keeping it fresh and relevant. The lines and songs refer to Vietnam specifically, but Joyce manages to widen the focus and bring to mind thoughts of current controversial wars in foreign countries. Joyce and the cast are also able to suggest the highly topical debates over racism, the legalization of marijuana, or gay rights – cultural issues that remain unsettled over 40 years later.

The musical is loosely structured, plot-wise, around a group of hippies living on the streets of New York City, and a variety of main characters. The two most prominent of these are Claude and Berger. Claude is sensitive young man from Queens, who is seeking truth and beauty and life as a hippie, but feels deeply conflicted about the pressure his parents and society put upon him to go to into the army when he receives his draft card. Actor Jarod Hazzard does a beautiful job of communicating Claude's indecision. It's clear that he is weighing the desire to stop the destruction and horrors of war, and to remake society in a more loving image, against his responsibilities to his family, to society, and to the country he loves and wants to save and make better for everyone.

Claude is contrasted sharply by the irreverent radical Berger, who has no trouble refusing the shackles society would put on him, and frequently thumbs his nose, among other body parts, at “the man.” Jeremy Kelly does a phenomenal job as Berger, bringing passion and raw sex appeal but still a great deal of thoughtfulness and real emotion to a character that could easily go over the top. Berger sings “Going Down” about being thrown out of high school and accepted “normal” society with the necessary anger and rebelliousness, but I still saw a hint of pain and longing below the confident exterior. The depth Hazzard and Kelly bring to these key roles absolutely carries the show.

There are four other main characters who add more to the story. Tim Jenkins as Woof, Rachel Wooden as Jeanie, and Mariah Thornton as Crissy bring a sweet, loving side to the Tribe – while Darren Jackson as Hud brilliantly underscores the edge and in-your-face rebellion we get from Berger. Bree Carroll could have added to the brash tone of Hud and Berger with her die-hard political activist character of Sheila, but her acting skills are flat, despite her gorgeous voice.

This definitely an ensemble show, though, and the entire cast brings great energy and beautiful harmonies to the songs. The production ensemble also brought great life to the show. The choreography by Heather Klaus was highly creative and energetic, and the costumes by Nikki Wheeler were colorful and authentic to the show's late sixties origins. The eight piece band completely rocked the music.

I think the show drags a bit towards the end of Claude's hallucinations in Act II, losing some forward momentum, but it comes together brilliantly with the gorgeous final song “Let the Sun Shine In.” The a capella portions of it gave me chills.

Despite its age, Corn Stock's production of “Hair” hits relevant and exciting notes in this sexy, fun and passionate rendition. It runs in the tent in Upper Laura Bradley Park through Saturday, September 1 beginning at 7:30 PM each night.  Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for patrons 18 and younger and are available at the Corn Stock Theatre Box Office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at www.cornstocktheatre.com

Posted August 28, 2012

 
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