Hair is energetic, yet lacking in plot

The Fox Theatre’s latest show, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, is exactly what it claims to be. There is rock music, love, and a full cast of hippies. Originally conceived in 1967, Hair strongly reflects the hippie culture of its origins. Crazy hair, eccentric outfits, drugs, sex and anti-war sentiments are abound throughout the musical. The experience is wild and loud, essentially a three-hour party celebrating what it was to be a hippie in the sixties.

From its earliest moments, Hair exists with the complete absence of a fourth wall. Actors dance down the aisles and tussle the hair of patrons, acknowledging the audience from the stage or venturing into it to ask someone for change. The frequent audience involvement provides the opportunity for several jokes as well as providing a sense of inclusion of the audience in the party that is happening onstage. This inclusion extends even after the curtain call, when theatergoers are invited up onto the stage to dance with the performers for a few extra numbers. The stage fills up quickly, so anyone interested in participating should prepare themselves for the rush when they see actors placing staircases on either side of the stage.

Hair is filled with energy that never stops. The large cast covers the stage, maintaining a constant state of movement through dance. The lighting is appropriately colorful and very dramatic. Each musical number demonstrates a new combination of lighting displays, from spotlights to colored lights to stage lights. One song even shouts out various colors as the lights change to reflect the lyrics. The diversity and impressive execution of the lighting works well in combination with the psychedelic sunrise backdrop that persists throughout the performance. Because the stage configuration never changes, it is the lightning that transforms the stage, creating new places and new emotions.

The number of songs is plentiful—far more than typical musical fare—and the music is clearly the centerpiece of the show. The sheer quantity of music lends itself to the variety of the accompanying dance and light shows.  The majority of the songs in Hair are energetic pop anthems for the tribe of hippies, exemplified by the opening number “Aquarius” with its astrological proclamations of a new age of peace and love. The music still reflects the diversity of late sixties popular music, including Hendrix-style guitar solos, Indian sitars and mantras, folk rock and even a bit of doo-wop.

Unfortunately, there is very little story to support Hair’s energy. A few moments of silliness emerge from the occasional vignettes interspersed throughout the vast quantities of music. The most notable of these is an odd old lady with a fascination for the hippie tribe and an attitude that is humorously inappropriate for her age. Most of the snippets of story focus on the few recurring primary characters, but with the exception of one, none receive much in the way of development beyond simple defining quirks.

At least the main character Claude, played by Paris Remillard, is given an overarching conflict, dealing with how he should respond to being drafted during the Vietnam War and struggling with his desire to avoid being a bum for the rest of his life. While these themes are potentially very deep, they are overshadowed by Hair’s dominant festive tone which emphasizes freedom of spirit and what it is like to be a hippie.

There is an extended drug trip sequence in the second act that summarizes the main character’s struggles, resulting in a sudden attempt at an emotional climax. The climax, however, completely breaks the upbeat tone of Hair. It is unsupported by the rest of the musical and feels more like mood whiplash than a legitimate dramatic moment. Despite this one sudden emotional reversal, the rest of the musical is consistently cheery and free-spirited.

Theatregoers with children, be warned that there is a lot of sensitive material in this production. There are numerous references to sex and drugs, lots of profanity, and a dimly-lit scene in which most of the cast takes their clothes off. Those things aside, the performance itself is vibrant and invigorating, a nonstop musical celebration of sixties nostalgia. Anyone who grew up in the era or simply appreciates it will find something to enjoy.

Hair is showing at the Fox Theatre through Sunday, May 22, with showtimes at 8 PM Wednesday through Saturday, in addition to a 2 PM show on Saturday and a 1 PM and 6:30 PM show on Sunday.

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