On Theater: 'HAIR' is 'seething in ensemble excellence'

January 27, 2011|By Tom Titus

Can it be more than 40 years since Orange Coast College musical theater star Diane Hall moved to New York, changed her surname to "Keaton," and won a role in the original production of "HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical"?

Well, Diane Keaton's (non-musical) movie career, including an Oscar for Best Actress, moved right along, while "HAIR" became pigeonholed as a period piece and hadn't been heard from much until 2009, when the show won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.

Yes, the Age of Aquarius is with us again, turning back the clock to 1967 and the popular opposition to the Vietnam War. Those pot-smoking, draft card-burning hippies are overflowing the stage and spilling into the audience at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.


With U.S. troops again involved in unpopular wars, this might seem the perfect time to revive the original protest musical, even though the draft was abolished nearly 30 years ago. The idea of young men conscripted and sent off to war, where many of them died, is the crux of "HAIR," a heavy plot line intertwined in a show featuring no fewer than 40 musical numbers.

At the Segerstrom Center, the ebullient, enthusiastic company of the touring production rocks the house with such memorable favorites as "Aquarius," "Good Morning Starshine," "Let the Sun Shine In" and the title number. Tribal showmanship prevails, along with a few standout solo performers.

Tops among these are Steel Burkhardt as Berger, leader of the tribe stirring anti-war sentiment in an American city, and Paris Remillard as Claude, the unfortunate young man who's just received his draft notice. Burkhardt struts through the opening numbers with an assumed and unchallenged authority, while Remillard gains audience sympathy in his unease and uncertainty about his future.

Among the female tribe members, Phyre Hawkins belts out a ringing opening number, "Aquarius," and Caren Lyn Tacket brings the tempo down with a haunting "Easy to Be Hard," one of the show's numbers that became a popular single.

Even the older generation is represented with Mother (Allison Guinn) and Dad (Josh Lamon) bringing their sentiments to bear as comic relief in this widening generation gap.

Director Diane Paulus has done a magnificent job of enforcing tribal cohesiveness and reproducing the anti-establishment mood of the 1960s. But it's Karole Armitage's stunning choreography, which often surrounds and involves the audience, that will be most fondly remembered.

And yes, there's the nudity — about a minute's worth in dim light, hardly enough to repel the most prudish viewer. Coming as it does amid a fervent draft card-burning event, it's just one more avenue of protest, sensitively staged.

The 1960s may be a distant memory, but "HAIR" retains its relevance in this life-affirming production seething in ensemble excellence.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical"

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays until Feb. 6.

Cost: Tickets start at $20

Call: (714) 556-2787

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