'Hair' has body, and even a bit of soul

'Hair' has body, and even a bit of soul
Photo by Joan Marcus

It's pretty easy to be cynical about Hair, the vintage rock musical playing this week at the Orpheum Theatre. After all, the show is a relic from the peace and love generation, a generation that turned out to be, once they grew into adulthood, self absorbed to the point that Narcissus might have advised them to turn away from the mirror. Whatever transgressive power that the hippy look and lifestyle ever carried has been wasted away by endless parodies, documentaries, parody documentaries, and straightforward documentaries that play like parodies.

For chunks of Tuesday's performance, that's pretty much how it felt. A young cast (most probably weren't alive when John Lennon was shot) gamely played with the material, cracking jokes about square parents, school teachers, the establishment, and living a free, easy, libertine life.

Near the end of the first act, the action snapped into place. The story began to focus more and more on Claude, a Flushing teenager who dreams of Manchester, England, and who is facing his draft notice. It's his struggle that fuels the best moments of the play, including a terrific, tribal draft card burning at the end of act one (also where you'll see the show's famous nudity--look quick!), through to the musical's uneven second act, and finally to the stunning final chorus of "Let the Sun Shine In." In fact, part of me wishes the show would have ended with that moment, skipping the lengthy curtain call entirely.

Paris Remillard brings Claude's conflicts to full flower throughout the show, adding some real passion and confusion to his solo numbers. Along with his great name, Steel Burkhardt brings plenty of wild passion and sexuality to head hippie Berger, who sort of looks like he's late for a Ted Nugent album cover shoot. The women don't get a chance to be as well rounded as the men (hmmm, apparently, a Broadway play from the '60s was still a Broadway play from the '60s), but several of them take advantage of their moments in the spotlight, especially Phyre Hawkins as Dionne and Caren Lyn Tackett as Claude's lover Jeanie.

Hair isn't the only early rock musical on local stages right now. Jesus Christ Superstar, the piece that brought Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to the world, is currently onstage at  Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Like Hair, Superstar takes until the second act to truly kick into high gear. In the Lloyd Webber continium, this is more on the deeply flawed side of the equation rather than fucking awful. As Jesus, Ben Bakken doesn't bring quite enough charisma to the part, but he's more than up to the challenges of the music (and if there's a Deep Purple cover band looking for a singer, he could be your man). Jared Oxborough does better with Judas, showcasing the character's inner conflicts that make his ultimate betrayal all the more heartbreaking.

'Hair' has body, and even a bit of soul
Photo by Joan Marcus

Michael Brindisis stages the play with plenty of passion and a fair amount of insight that brings the best out of the material. (Though whether it's written as a comedy number or not, the goofy "King Herod's Song" just doesn't work; the mood didn't need to be lightened, they were about to crucify Jesus Christ for heaven's sake.)

Still, I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy digesting my dessert while Jesus got his funky 39 lashes at the order of Pontius Pilate. Jesus Christ Superstar works remarkably well, I'm just not sure if it works as dinner theater.

Hair runs through March 6 while Jesus Christ Superstar runs though August 2.

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