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UCI performers let 'Hair' down in robust revival

June 06, 2003

Tom Titus

Some sage once said, if you can remember the 1960s, you weren't

really there. And certainly those characters depicted in the rock

musical "Hair" -- if they're still around in the 21st century --

would recall the latter years of that decade through a hazy,

hallucinogenic blur.

It's taken 35 years, but UC Irvine has finally given this "tribal

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rock musical" its moment in the sun. Somewhat juvenile by today's

standards ("Rent," for example), "Hair" nevertheless functions as a

high-voltage retrospective of an era when antiwar protesters had a

vested interest in their cause -- unlike those today who oppose U.S.

involvement in Iraq, it was their own heads that might be blown off

in Vietnam.

Today's youthful audience might view the scenes depicting the

burning of draft cards with a bemused shrug, but in 1968, selective

service was a specter hovering over an entire generation. Its

response ("Hell no, we won't go") was amplified and set to a vibrant

beat in "Hair."

At UCI, director Keith Fowler -- who does remember the 1960s and

saw the original Broadway production -- brings this testy,

confrontational era back to life with a supremely energetic cast of

students spilling all over the stage of the Claire Trevor Theater and

often into the audience as well.

It's the ensemble excitement, choreographed by Janice Gudde

Plastino, that gives "Hair" its contagious appeal -- certainly not

its plot, sketchily created by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, which

exists only to further the cause of Galt MacDermot's music, here

faithfully delivered by Dennis Castellano at the helm of a

seven-piece combo.

All of this off-the-wall activity transpires on an inspired

junkyard setting designed by Lindsay Gassaway, which offers protest

pictures from the 1960s emblazoned on a pair of bedsheet screens to

set the proper pre-show mood. Actors also mingle with the patrons

before the action begins, one petite blond offering to paint peace

signs on playgoers' arms.

Once the show gets under way, only a few actors in the splendidly

drilled ensemble take center stage. The key figure is Claude (Tyler

Stamets), who's just gotten his "greetings" from Uncle Sam and is

celebrating his last night of freedom with the "tribe." Stamets

conveys his apprehensive confusion about his future skillfully.

Martin Giannini as the ruler of the tribe, the combative Berger,

is a powerful stage presence, bending others to his will. Brett

Teresa tears up the stage as Woof, a straight fellow with the hots

for Mick Jagger.

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