PARK CITY — As I approached the Egyptian Theatre in Park City on Friday, I could tell that I was in for a treat. The box office had been decked out with afros, love beads, and was painted with words like “love, peace, and happiness.” The lobby was buzzing with excitement and a good number of the audience has dressed up for opening night. Now when I say “dressed up” I’m not talking ball gowns and tuxedos. There were flower children from every generation decked out in their finest flair pants, loose shirts, and headbands. It was a great atmosphere and the show didn’t disappoint.
For those unfamiliar with Hair, the story centers around a “tribe” of hippies living in a New York City park during the Vietnam War era. The show follows the tribe as they try to understand who they are and what their place is, both in society and within their own group. This universal search for identity is embodied in the character of Claude (played by Fred Sherman Lee) who is still living at home with his Polish parents, spending his days with the tribe, and adopting a fake British persona, all while trying to decide whether to answer the draft notice that came in the mail. That’s a lot to handle for teenager.
One key choice that director Jerry Rapier made to help us understand Claude’s struggle was to split the lines from Claude’s disapproving parents between six actors. It was a powerful moment as we watched him being surrounded in their anger. All of that anger, frustration, and confusion that Claude was feeling culminated into some of the best songs of the show. Lee’s performance of “Where Do I Go?” at the end of the first act was beautifully done. I could feel his longing and his inner turmoil.
The production did very well at showing us Claude’s search for peace. So well in fact, that when he makes his final decision, there is a painful moment of acceptance for the audience; we are right there along with him. The final song is the hauntingly hopeful “Let the Sunshine In,” which is beautifully sung by the tribe with some very moving belting done by Kandyce Marie Gabrielsen. It’s a song that provides closure and catharsis to the struggle we just witnessed.
One area that could have been clearer was the role of Berger and the love triangle that forms between him, Claude, and Sheila. This relationship is intended to add to Claude’s confusion by adding a search for sexual identity to his plate. It didn’t happen. It felt as if the sexuality between all three of them was forced. Actually, I feel like that was an issue throughout the show for most of the cast. There were times when the cast didn’t seem comfortable with their own bodies, or the bodies of their cast members, which is essential for this show.
This leads me to Berger (Seth Barney) and Sheila (Deena Marie Manzanares), two of the largest roles in the show. Unfortunately both actors seemed to be having an off night (maybe it was the opening night jitters). Manzanares seemed to be having a hard time finding her notes during her solos and didn’t have much chemistry with Barney when the two were supposed to be lovers. In order to add in chemistry, Berger needed to be endearing from the get go and Barney struggled with this.
The character of Berger is beautiful because he is so stoned out of his mind that he can do whatever he wants and doesn’t have to have a reason (including taking off his pants and strutting around in a leather thong for the first third of the show). He is the connection with the audience, talking to them and interacting with them. He is the one that sets up the atmosphere of “this isn’t some pious traditional play, so let’s have fun.” However, if the actor isn’t having fun, then all of the crazy things that Berger does feel scripted and unnatural and we can’t connect. So have fun with it. Again, I feel that is a note that a majority of the cast could use: loosen up, relax, and just have more fun with it.
That being said, I really enjoyed myself. This wasn’t the Tony Award winning revival, but most of the performances and songs were strong. The weak parts are easily overshadowed. I would recommend going to see this show. It’s good as is, but if they can get some of those opening night jitters out of their system, it could be quite spectacular.
I would also like to provide a content warning. While I still recommend the show, be aware that it includes some adult themes, as one might expect when dealing with hippies. There is plenty of sexual content, drugs, language, racial slurs, and even full-frontal nudity. It is all handled quite appropriately, but just be aware and maybe don’t bring young kids (unlike the family sitting next to me).