The Year of the “Hair”
I am thankful that the stars (and planets) aligned to make it so. First, I rediscover my love for the song Where Do I Go?, and purchase the music to prepare it for my music ministry at church. Second, an inspired new Broadway production opens on March 31st. [Enjoy a rehearsal video of Aquarius.] Third, my beloved niece and God-daughter catches the bug, adopting the show as one of her favorites, and embracing it’s milieu (a gal after my own heart).
Finally, to top it all off, after years of talking about HAVING to perform in the show, I discover that the local theatre company ACLO is putting it on in the fall, and thankfully get cast (the details of my exact role are still being ironed out in callbacks). I have had a blast doing a variety of shows over the past 5 years, and many have been great growth opportunities, but not since I was in West Side Story at Broadway By the Bay in ’04 have I been in one of my Top 5 shows!
Our production runs September 12 – 27 in the historic Kofman Theatre in Alameda, CA. And, I’ll have the privilege of seeing the Broadway production on August 2nd, hopefully with all the current cast members.
My love affair with the show seems to have really gotten going in ’89, when I attended a CCM production, at my University of Cincinnati. I had just graduated from high school and was a freshman in the College of DAAP. The show knocked me over. It was one of those truly life-altering experiences, where you feel your very fiber is transformed in some way. I had plenty of insecurities back then, particularly about my body. This show gave me permission to strip those away, embrace the gift of my body, and celebrate it. It was as if a huge layer of fear had been pealed away. Of course other layers still remained, but this was a huge step in the right direction. To this day, I can remember how effective the charming but forceful Sam Samuelson was as Claude (I had seen him as a fantastic Joseph there too), and how Beth Blankenship embodied the mother-nature-scaled presence required for Aquarius, with her rock-solid belt and larger-than-life persona.
I spent countless all-nighters in my home studio working on graphic design projects, singing along with the Broadway soundtrack (White Boys, Walking in Space, Sodomy, and Easy to Be Hard were the most overplayed). The original Off-Broadway production opened in October ’67 at the Public Theater. It was then overhauled and moved to Broadway in April ’68. Enjoy an exhaustive history of the show and all its deets on Wikipedia, or this tribute site.
My roommate in my first West Coast apartment in Noe Valley (’93) proved to be the Kathy Bates of Hair fan-dome. He had at least 25 international Hair record albums…in German, Spanish, and seemingly endless languages. Enjoy this excerpt from an eccentric Hebrew production. The ’05 Actor’s Fund benefit recording provided a much needed fresh take on the musical. Although the album is not spot-on, it included one of my favorite new artists Jennifer Hudson singing a soulful rendition of Easy to Be Hard. A VERY unlikely Sheila, she nevertheless delivers a great (although a bit too slow) “studio” version.
The new Broadway production features the finest male musical theatre performer of his generation, Gavin Creel, as Claude. This performer can do no wrong, in my mind. I discovered him via the Broadway cast recording of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Honestly, I would never have imagined him a candidate for the role of Claude, as his ultra-tender tone, and tendency towards pop-inspired melismas don’t seem like an obvious choice for this fresh-off-the-farm character. But, I’m thrilled such a great artist is engaged in such an acclaimed production, and now nominated for another Tony! This video shows him in beautiful form in more familiar territory.
The show explored the prominent themes of the hippie movement, and ‘60s: race, drugs, nudity and sexual freedom, pacifism and environmentalism, religion and astrology, literary themes and symbolism. Theatre writer Scott Miller explained why the movement embraced these themes:
“Contrary to popular opinion, the hippies had great respect for America and believed that they were the true patriots, the only ones who genuinely wanted to save our country and make it the best it could be once again…. [Long] hair was the hippies’ flag—their… symbol not only of rebellion but also of new possibilities, a symbol of the rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles (a philosophy celebrated in the song “My Conviction”). It symbolized equality between men and women.”
These themes brought about much controversy, in their divisiveness. A Mexican production survived only one performance, and was shut-down by the government for being “detrimental to the morals of youth” (Wikipedia). Claude, in essence, battles out the opposing moral sides of the primary love vs. war dilemma of the era, in having to decide whether or not to resist the draft, as his friends had.
The original Off-Broadway productions did not have the oft-discussed nudity. But, all “twenty seconds” of it were integrated by the new director Tom O’Horgan in its original Broadway reincarnation. The concept was “inspired by two men who took off their clothes to antagonize the police during an informal anti-war gathering” (Wikipedia). The familiar controversy over this nudity has reared its head yet again. The verdict is still out on whether our ACLO production will include it, or not. Apparently, concerns voiced by the school that owns the theatre may put a kabbosh on it. For some cast members that will provide relief, for others disappointment. We shall see!
I was shocked (and tickled) to discover this telegram from the legendary diva Callas, to the original Broadway cast. Who in a million years would have pictured her in that audience? Not moi!
Amusingly, Leonard Bernstein remarked that “the songs are just laundry lists” and walked out of the Broadway production. Perhaps the true freedom portrayed in the show wasn’t in his vocabulary and scared him, as he was a man that lived, in essence, a double life.
Disco diva Donna Summer appeared in a German production! She is shown here singing Aquarius.
In the coming weeks my role in the ACLO production will be determined. They are two roles that could not be more different. I can’t wait for more to be revealed, and to begin rehearsals!