Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: (Toronto) Hair

The Hair company (photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Time for a Hair Cut?
by Laine Newman

My understanding of the play Hair is that when it was written, it filled a void—there were no hit musicals about the political counter-culture that fought against the war in Vietnam. However, while the songs may be memorable, some accuse the play of stereotyping and exploiting a counter-culture in exchange for hit ratings. The touring production of Diane Paulus’s 2008 Broadway revival now at the Royal Alex Theatre only further exemplified this kind of superficiality. While the cast could sing, at times it felt like a karaoke night at a downtown bar—the voices were strong, but the feelings absent. Paris Remillard, as Claude, was perhaps an exception. His charming and at times awkward character outshone the other cast members. 

At times, the words sounded more like gibberish and melodies, rather than sung words with meanings. 

There is no question, the cast of Hair can sing. Vocally, they excelled in their solos and duets. Yet, in ensemble numbers, the emotionless performances and tinny sound quality made it difficult to connect with the play or even discern the lyrics being sung. At times, the words sounded more like gibberish and melodies, rather than sung words with meanings. 

Scaffolding, staircases and a tie-dyed truck created the backdrop and set of the play. The placement of the orchestra on the scaffolding was an effective choice to include them as active and present members of the production. However, the set echoed Brooks McNamara’s brilliant design in Richard Schechner’s Dionysus in 69, which only further highlighted the play's unsuccessful attempt to replicate the 1960’s culture. 

It is worth noting that the second act of the production surpassed the first. While the performances were still lacking, some of the musical numbers were better choreographed. No longer relying on stereotypical gestures of what a “hippie” should look like, in act two the choreography flowed and set a more dire tone, fitting with the subject matter of the act.

The hippie movement was not solely about waving your arms around and being a flower child. It was a political movement. With the current political and economic climate, Hair has a particular relevance. It is surprising then that none of the actors in the play could channel the passion and drive to create change from the “occupiers” in the streets into their characters. The performances created caricatures and made it impossible to connect or care about the characters. The chants for change in the government and anti-war refrains in this production lacked meaning and failed to convey a message that especially today resonates as truth. 

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