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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Theater Review: Hair The Musical

Like the tangled strands of an unruly mane, "Hair" celebrates life while mourning deaths, and it echoes the present in the past.

But it's the unbridled liveliness that stands out in Kalamazoo's Whole Art Theatre's production of the 1969 rock musical.

My two best friends from childhood were visiting me the first weekend of June and we decided to see this production since one of my co-workers stars in the musical. It was a full house clapping along to the music in some spots, and, by the final curtain call, standing and dancing.

Through most of the scenes, about 16 bell-bottom- and bead-clad actors are on stage, their pelvises set to repeated thrust mode and irreverent energy oozing from every pore.

The director did a good job of managing such an active cast in a small space. They strolled up the aisles, writhed on the floor, and clustered on multilevel scaffolding.

Every cast member, even those tucked in the background, managed to be "on" all the time, creating personalities more than most ensemble shows.

Accompanied by an excellent, small, onstage rock band, the cast rolled out one hit song after another, with most of the solo voices strong and clear. Since there is little spoken dialogue, the song lyrics are particularly important, and cast members made sure every word was understood since no one was miced.

Most of the songs are upbeat and playful, but the several serious numbers protesting war and pollution were powerfully done.

The story focuses on Claude and his free-spirited, hippie friends as they sing about their loves and concerns. Claude is trying to decide whether to burn his draft card or join the establishment.

The Whole Art Theater's production includes the famous Act I finale, a nude scene where all but Claude shed their robes in symbolic unity and openness. The scene is brief and dimly lit.

The Whole Art's production of "Hair" is surprisingly powerful. With careful, bold moves, they take what could be a silly, outdated cliche and deliver the kind of theater that inspires standing ovation. It genuinely entertains and makes an audience take a hard look at itself. And of course, Kristen did a fabulous job as Sheila.

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