Archive for the ‘broadway’ Tag

40 Years of “Hair” Cast Alums at West Fest

One Big Hairy Family

There are a few musicals that participation in really welcomes you into a national family of cast alums…for life. Back when I did West Side Story at Broadway By the Bay, I remember getting excited about The Official WSS Website, which had a comprehensive register for all productions and performers internationally. Well, that only scratched the surface…

I just had the pleasure of experiencing my first real taste of this larger sense of community thanks to West Fest, the 40th Anniversary celebration of Woodstock, a free concert in Golden Gate Park. Today, for the closing act on the West Stage, 23 members from different national casts of Hair performed “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)”, and “We Are the World”. Enjoy more event details and posters here.

West Fest Poster Favorites

Since Berger doesn’t sing any of the solo verses in “The Flesh Failures” in the stage version, I was especially moved to be offered some of Claude’s passionate opening lines here. And, in “We Are the World”, was slightly amused to get the solos sung by the indisputable King (and a recent media Queen) of weed, Willie Nelson and Dionne Warwick! (I did not attempt a Willie impersonation.) Well, long-story-short, we ended up singing both pieces as group numbers, due to a producer’s misjudgment (a kind understatement!). But, that’s what hippie life is all about, after all…COMMUNITY! We clasped hands, stood arm-in-arm, and sang as one, from our hearts. The audience cheered us on, and fervently sang along, showing their shared love for Hair, and for the unifying message behind our second song.

Our new tribe came in from as far as New York, and as close as the Inner Richmond, SF (me). It included original cast members from NY, LA, Chicago, and Seattle. What an inspiration! Here are portraits of participants Walter Michael Harris, THE Walter from the Original Broadway production (at the tender age of 16!), and David “Pappy” Hunt, as Hud, from the same production.

Walter Michael Harris & David "Pappy" Hunt

And, here is Susan Morse (left) singing “Black Boys”, in Circus Magazine, ’69.

"Black Boys"

Hippie Life in Golden Gate Park

Never have I seen such a smorgasbord of homemade brownies, baklava, and other baked goods ;-), all around Speedway Meadows. Jefferson Starship offered up a great set midday. Their current lead singer, Cathy Richardson has CRAZY chops! I was mighty impressed. (Initially, when I first rounded the corner and realized it was J.S. performing, I thought, Grace must have gotten some serious vocal rest!)

It was an honor to take part in this celebration of both Woodstock and Hair. Little did I know my own Berger costume would get more mileage so soon. And, I had a hell of a good time hangin’ with our lovely and insanely talented cast — at rehearsal, the event booth, backstage (in the performer kasbah tent), and onstage. We hung our tribe photos and exchanged stories at the booth. I look forward to our next gathering or gig. Special thanks must go to Pappy, Walter, Jenny, Barbara, Kevin, Rana, and Tadg!

The stars seemed to align yet again when Walter Harris shared that his brother George was Hibiscus, the founder of The Cockettes. I was especially thrilled to discover this, since I’m enamored with the Thrillpeddler’s current production of The Cockette’s Pearls Over Shanghai, which my friends Valentine and Leanne Borghesi are in (Leanne also served as Associate Director). George Harris “was also the young man in the turtleneck sweater in the famous picture of the anti-war protester putting flowers into the gun barrels of the MPs during the October 21, 1967 march on the Pentagon.” (Wikipedia)  This act must have inspired the same gesture, by Claude, in the current Broadway production.

Let the sunshine in!

HAIR West Fest, 2009 Cast:

Walter Michael Harris (Music Director): Original Walter (“What a Piece of Work is Man”, Original Broadway Recording), Biltmore Theatre, NY, ‘68
Jenny Lee Ho (Choreographer): Crissy, Original SF, Geary & Orpheum Theatres, ‘69-‘70; National Dance Director, ‘70-‘71
David “Pappy” Hunt (Organizer): Hud, Original Broadway, ‘69; Original LA, ‘68
Tabitha Gaffney: Tribe (Koya Huye), Mountain Play, Mt. Tam, CA, ‘07
Tadg Galleran: “Don’t Put It Down”, Original Broadway; Original LA, ‘69-‘71
Janis Jobs: Jeanie, Miami, ‘70; Tribe, Seattle, ‘70
Rana Kangas-Kent (Hospitality): Jeanie (Koya Huye Tribe), Mountain Play, Mt. Tam, CA, ‘07
Jessica Marciel: Crissy (Jeanie understudy), Original LA, ‘69-‘71
Kevin Mason (Web Designer & Photographer): Woof, Margaret Mead, Walter, (Claude understudy), Original Seattle & Miami, ‘69, and Original Tour, ‘70; Over 500 performances!
Barbara Moore (Coordinator): NY Workshop (“Light Up Cross” Creator), ‘66; Original LA, ‘68-‘69
Susan Morse:
Sheila (+“Electric Blues”), Original LA, ‘69; Tribe,
Original Broadway, ‘69; “disinHAIRited” Cast Recording, ‘69
Alariza Nevarez
: [
Ozzy Osbourne, in “Zombies! The Musical”, Exit Theater, SF, current]
Richard Osorio:
General Manager, Original Broadway, ‘68; Original LA, ‘68; Las Vegas, ‘69; Tours
Helen Pollock:
Crissy, Original Chicago, ‘69, and Original LA
John Quinn: Tribe (Koya Huye), Mountain Play, Mt. Tam, CA, ‘07
Cara Robin: Original Broadway Production Coordinator, and Second Casting Director,
‘68; Tribe, Original SF & Boston, ‘68-‘69; disinHAIRited” Cast Recording, ‘69
Maggie Velasquez: “White Boys” (Muwekma Tribe), Stagelight Productions, San Jose, ‘07
Zia Wesley: Tribe, Original SF, ‘69; Original LA, ‘70 (stage name: Rhoda Seven)
Yvette Williams: Tribe, Original Chicago, ‘71; Crissy, Tour;
Bus ‘n Truck, LA, ‘72-‘73
Ariane Wolfe: Tribe (unofficial), Original SF, ‘69; Original LA, ‘70
Michelle Wynn: Sheila (Muwekma Tribe), Stagelight Productions, San Jose, ‘07
Paul Ziller: Berger (Ramaytush Tribe), ACLO, Alameda, CA, ‘09

(Cast, if you have any edits to this list, feel free to email me, or post in “Leave a Comment”!)

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Billy, N2N, RoA, or Shrek?

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).

HAIR!

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!

Productions

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.

CCM's Production of "Hair"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.

Hair Movie PosterMy 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.

Gavin Creel

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.

New Broadway Production

Controversies

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.

Love-InThe 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!

Surprising Associations

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!

Madame Callas Telegram

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.

What’s Next?

The new Broadway cast album goes on sale May 26th! And, check out a scene
American Soldier, lyricist Jim Rado’s new show.

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!