Playing thru November 20, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — Opening night of Hair and it’s a sold out house.  When walking into the 100+ seat theater, the energy in the space is tangible.  The electricity of a well-rehearsed company exchanged with an enthusiastic crowd fills every corner.  The actors speckle across not only the stage but also the house, interacting with the audience openly, letting us all know there will be no “fourth wall” tonight.

The design elements, as I saw from the very beginning, were for the most part fun, colorful, and oh-so-’60s.  The set design by Gage Williams had fantastic coloring, including a mural of a blue face makes the entire space vibrant and lovely.  However, I thought the symmetry of the structure needed some adjustment as it didn’t seem to fit the hairy creatures’ off balance existence.  The lighting designed by Jesse Portillo and the costumes designed by Jana Lawrence followed a similar pattern: rich and colorful with perhaps a few things one would put into a “If I had 2 weeks and 500 dollars more” category.  But together, the designs worked and welcomed me to “make love, not war.”

All this immediately put me into a state of theatrical enchantment; I was both excited and nervous at what the “American Tribal Love Rock Musical” would bring me.  What I received was not a disappointment.  This is a story with a loose bag of sameness, with a specific yet slightly abstract plot that has the feel of a concert more than a play.  But in University of Utah’s production, the portrayal of the individual characters, full of depth and complexity, made up greatly for what the original story lacks in structure.

Some shining examples of this dynamicity in character portrayal included Robin Auva’a as Ronny and Megan Winegar as Sheila.  Both of these women commanded the stage and gave strong, enthusiastic, yet humble support when it was another’s turn to receive the audience’s attention—something absolutely vital to a piece that is so ensemble driven.  Auva’a in particular has a voice that could bring even the strongest of men to their knees.

Our male leads (if you could call any character in Hair a “lead”), Berger and Claude, were unfortunately a little less strong in their stage presence.  Matt Romriell, portraying Berger, was cheeky, fun and interesting when acting, but lacked in vocal technique.  Claude, played by Carson Twitchell, had a fantastic singing voice, but left something to be desired in his acting ability.

But for me, the crème de la crème in this particular production was the ensemble of actors as a whole.  Together they gave a performance that was an explosion of energy coming off the stage, smacking the audience in the face (in the best way) with each high-energy number after another.  This is a compliment to not only the cast and the live band, but also David Schmidt, their music director, and Maureen Laird, the choreographer.

All together, I had a great experience in the Babcock Theater.  Alexander Gelman directed a production of which any director would and should be proud.  On more than one occasion I questioned my own beliefs and wondered if I would have the bravery this group did to live my life as I want to live it, whether others approved of it or not.  That is a question anyone can benefit from analyzing and learning from these “hippies,” whether free love, drugs, and anti-war campaigning is their thing or not.  Oh, and as far as including the nudity for which the original Broadway and revival versions were so notorious?  U of U opted out.  You still might not want to take the whole family to this one because there’s still plenty of sexuality to be observed, but anyone allowed to see the newest Twilight movie would probably be just fine.

Hair plays in the Babcock Theater on the campus of the University of Utah nightly at 7:30 PM and weekends at 2 PM through November 20. Tickets are $10.50-23. For more information, visit