By Bob Evans
Who can believe that America’s first tribal rock musical, “Hair,” shocked audiences with a plethora of four letter words (yes, including multiple F-bombs), a song about masturbation, and full-frontal nudity to end Act I? Well, it’s been 50 years since that legendary show rocked and changed Broadway forever.
Kansas City’s Mid-Life Players, over 35 years old to qualify for the group, opened their production of “Hair” at the Just Off Broadway Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri on Thursday night, Oct. 25, but (spoiler alert) without the nudity. Directed my Tisha Swart-Entwistle and music Direction by Michelle Harper, these well-seasoned locals resurrected the music of the Broadway phenomena in concert style. The time-traveling back to the 1960s used interviews and projected video clips to take the audience back to the events that help create “Hair.”
According to a statement on the Mid-Life Players website: “Currently celebrating its 50th Anniversary, ‘Hair’ celebrates the sixties counterculture in all its barefoot, long-haired, bell-bottomed, beaded and fringed glory. To an infectiously energetic rock beat, the show wows audiences with songs like ‘Aquarius,’ ‘Good Morning, Starshine, ‘Hair,’ ‘I Got Life,’ and ‘Let The Sun Shine.’ Exploring ideas of identity, community, global responsibility and peace, ‘Hair’ remains relevant as ever as it examines what it means to be a young person in a changing world.”
Give lots of credit to the cast for reminding the audience of the time-frame of the “Hair” generation. The music speaks for itself and many in the audience will know the melodies and probably most of the words to the stand-alone songs the show birthed. Costumes added to the magic as did the tie-died shirts, peace signs on jeans, time-sensitive wigs, and the social awareness of that time long ago where America was still innocent.
“Hair” honors the time when the youth of America started to speak up on national issues–specifically the Vietnam War, draft cards, and far too many young men killed in a war created by the older generation. This reflected the anger of young men shipped off to fight and die in a war at a time before they were even eligible to vote and oppose the war.
Never known as a strong story for a musical, “Hair” focuses on a group of Hippies and shows their altitudes and lifestyle. The main characters are Claude, Berger, Sheila and Woof. The story involves a young man divided among duty to his country, his unformed ambitions, his parents’ expectations, and fear of death. That seems like a great reason for a musical, but the script just does not bring that to the forefront. Audiences not familiar with the show will struggle to see the focus clearly.
Even with that serious story-line, the show presents a devil-may-care happiness motif with the music carrying the show. And, the music remains popular to this day. Mid-Life Players caught the flavor of the music and delivered it with force.
Standout vocal performances came from Curt Knupp, Jacob Robertson, Matt Pollock, Jessica Holcombe and Natasha Gibbons. The entire cast gave strong vocal performances, but those specifically stood out. As for the performance, the cast needed an audience to help them pace the show. The first audiences help them know where to slow, where to speed, how to time laughs, etc. Opening night, the cast generated a lot of electricity and tried to spark the crowd. The audience just did not return the energy until Act II when they got more engaged with the play. By the end, the pacing and flow of energy created the party atmosphere that “Hair” generates.
The cast is: Curt Knupp as Claude, Jacob Robertson as Berger, Carol Robinson as Sheila, Matt Pollock as Woof/Margaret Meade, Mark McNeal as Hud, Megan Michael as Jeanie, Sharon Johnson as Dionne, Tracy McClung as Chrissy, Ken Janasz as Hubert/Paul, Jessica Holcombe as Ronny, Natasha Gibbons as Leata, Moe Graenser as Walter, Ricardo Sinistre as Hiram, Julie McDaniel as Suzannah, Becky Clark as Mary, Danise Deckert as Diane, Kate Elcock as Marjorie, Linda Wetzel as Linda, Nan Lippincott as Natalie.
The creative team included Tisha Swart-Entwistle, director; Michelle Harper, music director; Becca Stabano keyboard/accompanist; Kylie Visocsky stage manager/choreographer, Tisha Swart-Entwistle, lighting/film designer; Bill Wood, sound technician; Jeremiah Lossa, guitar; Frank Annecchini, bass guitar; Christoph Sisson, percussion; Anne Steukel, clarinet/synthesizer.
Better hurry to see the dusted off gem of a musical. The show runs Oct. 26-28 only. Evening shows are at 7:30. Sunday matinee begins at 2 p.m. All are at the Just Off Broadway Theatre.
Tags: Hair, Mid-Life Players, Just Off Broadway Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment