Burning Coal Theatre @ Meymandi Theatre at the Murphey School
Through Sept. 27
Ever since we entered the actual Age of Aquarius in December 2007 (at least according to nonscientists known as astrologers), the 42-year-old Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, with its celebrated opening anthem, has been revived frequently, perhaps in order to revive our spirits in the absence of peace, which is clearly not yet guiding the planets.
Burning Coal Theatre's production of Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt McDermot's counterculture celebration is playing in its Meymandi Theatre at the Murphey School, a venue barely large enough to contain the show's effervescence. Although the show was controversial when it premiered, the behaviors and beliefs of its characters are no longer shocking—yet Hair remains surprisingly fresh and relevant. It is also fun.
Maybe we need to reinstitute the draft so that we might rouse ourselves to get rid of the current "dirty little war," as Hair's self-styled young "tribe" calls the one in Vietnam. The plot of Hair, such as it is, concerns sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll—and antiwar activities, along with the search for peace, love and understanding. The action centers on charismatic Claude's struggle when he's called up by the draft board, and Hair reminds us how the military draft, with its power to drastically affect people's lives, shook the complacency of the intelligentsia. In spelling out the consequences of Claude's ultimate decision, the musical remains a clarion call to abandon the killing fields for sensual life.
But Hair is at least as much about pleasure as about social change, and the large cast, under the direction of Mark Sutch, gives us plenty of that, as its members move vivaciously to Robin Harris' excellent choreography in Kelly Farrow's time-appropriate costumes. The actors all have good voices, and the songs are delightful when they are not diminished by poor (and unneeded) amplification. A four-piece group led by pianist Brad Gardner rocks at the back of the stage area; throughout the show, various actors take up their own instruments for a song or two in a completely natural way. (Jonathan Fitts stands out in this regard.) There's a kind of prelude, during which the actors and musicians create a shimmering groove. Sadly, its energy is drained by the interpolation of long announcements before the first act; a similarly deadening interruption comes at the act's close. Fortunately, the cast has energy to spare, and it recreates the joy again and again, singing its "space songs on a spider web sitar" and letting the sun shine in.