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Hair captures the spirit of the ’60s

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Though the ’60s  finished a few years before I was born, the University of Lethbridge’s production of the 1968 rock musical Hair, which runs Feb. 9-13, captures the essence of a turbulent Danielle Guarr, Ian McFarlane and Kayleigh Book. Photo by Richard Amerydecade almost perfectly. It almost makes me wish I was born 20 years earlier to have experienced that first hand. At least I’d like to think.

I took in opening night, Feb. 9, which was close to sold out. While the Who’s epic ’60s anthem ‘My Generation’ played softly, several audience members could be seen dressed in their hippie best, even the pit band visible beneath  the stage sported love beads, fringes and long hair.

While the crowd was getting settled through a long, opening instrumental featuring atonal sitar music, the show’s main character, Manchester transplant Claude,  played expertly by Jerrim Rushka wandered onto the stage and sat on a tree stump, dwarfed by a massive dreamcatcher, where a couple hippie girls fondled his hair.

 He remained seated through the opening number “Age of Aquarius,” but he’d  steal the spotlight, though his Manchester accent kept  coming and going, as much as  ‘tribe’ leader  Georger Berger, played  by Ian McFarlane did. His innate charisma showed why the tribe look to him as a leader. The first act of the production introduced the audience to the tribe, explored their friendship and bonding over the common love of free love, drugs, peace and harmony.

 Though Hair takes place in 1968, there was a definite connection between the young people back then and the young people today, as they try to find their place in a tumultuous world fraught with parental and societal expectations, surrounded by the dark cloud of war, racial disharmony and the draft. It’s not a production for the politically correct. It has swearing, nudity,  sex, drugs, rock and roll and some intense exploration of controversial issues. But it is mostly about peace, love, friendship and understanding. And what’s wrong with that?

As the cast bond, they become as much friends of the audience as they do of each other.

Several of the cast were highlights including Ife Abiola who displayed his magnificent  set of pipes, and tribe member Lindsay Meli, who got to sing a few numbers, took part in the haunting, dimly lit, tastefully done nude scene ending  Act 1  while Claude  sings “What Am I To Do?” She also added some excellent comedic bits, especially during a scene exploring  the relationships between the parents and their offspring, during which she played  one of the mothers and also a scene in the trippy second act where she played a shoeshine girl for a black and female Abraham Lincoln. All the girls sing really well especially a trio doing a take off of the Supremes.

The production got pretty weird in the second act, mostly due to the characters sharing a couple highIan McFarlane. powered joints provided by Berger which lead to hallucinations of war, presidents, famous actors, education, conquest, war and other issues on the part of  Claude, who is  faced with the decision to tune in, drop out, burn his draft card, or go to war. Jay Whitehead had an exceptional performance, playing a Kids in the Hall- esque  woman in drag character Margaret Mead, and her husband, Hubert ( played by Rachelle Thompson) who stood up in the middle of the audience, to ask  the “kids” what was going on and to explain what a hippie was. Whitehead was hilarious, and even has a pretty cool singing voice. He reminded me a lot of the Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson.


 The whole cast, when they projected their voices, sing extremely well together. New West Theatre member Jocelyn Haub is another  vocal highlight as Sheila.
Hair satirizes the major issues of the day, be it the machine of war, monks protesting by setting themselves on fire or 60s drug culture in general, but at the same time make the audience think about the issues in a different way. They also interacted well with the audience, be it walking amongst them to invite them to the “be in” before the nude scene, or handing out flowers at the beginning.

 The whole production would be perfectly at home on the stage of Chicago’s Second City  improv/comedy troupe. The whole production seems like one big trippy hippie drug induced haze of singing, dancing, drug use and sex, especially the second act.  It’s a good trip though. But the story line can be tough to follow.

Fortunately we have Jeanie (played by Julia Bronson) , Claude’s pregnant girlfriend who acts as a Greek chorus in places by appearing out of nowhere on a trapdoor on stage to explain some of the more subtle relationship points. She is invaluable and hilarious.
If you are curious  about the ’60s or just want to hear how the title “Hair” is supposed to be done,” be sure to check out this production. It will touch your heart, especially the last scene which has Claude  hanging from the Dreamcatcher, in an almost crucifixion pose.
 It runs at 8 p.m. each night until Feb. 13. There is a 7 p.m. and 12 a.m. showing on Friday night.

— by Richard Amery, L.A Beat editor
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