Monday, August 12, 2019

Hair—Staged!—downtown Portland


“Let the Sunshine In”

This iconic, rock opera from the 60’s is written by Gerome Ragni & James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot.  It is directed by Katie McLoughlin, choreographed by Diana Schultz and music direction by Andrew Bray.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre (4th floor), 1111 SW Broadway, in downtown Portland, through August 17th.  For more information, go to their site at www.stagedpdx.org

In the beginning, there was a Garden.  And in this Garden, there were all sorts of beautiful, diverse creatures, who lived in harmony with Nature, and like the proverbial, “lilies of the field,” partook of the gifts and flavors of this wondrous land and were free and happy.  But then, a snake in the grass disrupted their games and “let loose the dogs of war,” and this land, and its inhabitants, would never be the same again!

And so, through all the incarnations and incantations of humankind, we are deposited unceremoniously in the late 60’s in Central Park, in which another “dirty little war” is brewing, called Nam.  And the children of flowers and peace are, once again, forced to goose-step with the greed-mongers and political lemmings who rule our country.  And so, we will peek in at the lovefest of words and songs that were once the Garden’s anthem.

Berger (Jessica Tidd) seems to be the leader of this assembly of misfits.  And into it comes a newbie, a transplant from England, no less, Claude (Blake Stone) and we seem to be viewing these unfoldings of history through the eyes of this innocent, this virgin in a crumbling environment, this “babe in the woods.” 

And he embraces fully his new companions, such as Wolf (Jacob Skidmore), a loving spirit of all genders; Hud (Charles Grant), a sizzling rocket for the rights of all races; “Margaret Mead” (Kimo Camat), giving us a taste of the establishment when needed; Dionne (Gabie Mbenza-Ngoma), a woman with a mission; Sheila (Annie Eldridge), wanting to stamp out all the “heartless people;” Jeannie (Aubrey Slaughter), ready to bring a new life into this chaotic world; Crissy (Kealani Petito), mooning over a lost love and others of the pack, Averyl Hartje, Sydney Heim, Moe Lewis, Hallie August, and Ben Sherman.

And all the familiar songs are here:  Let the Sunshine In, Age of Aquarius, Manchester England, Sodomy…, I Got Life, White Boys, the sweet ballad, Frank Mills (stupidly cut from the movie, which, also unwisely, changed the ending)  and the haunting, Dirty Little War, et. al. (sorry, can’t tell you actual titles, as they weren’t listed in the program).

Playing this on a small stage was a very smart choice, as it brings the action and issues into your lap.  The long hallucination scene is even more powerful because of that.  The mobile fencing is a grand idea, as it not only helps the flow of the scenes but indicates that settings are not really that important to this story.  It is a here-and-now situation.  McLoughlin has chosen her cast well, as they all are terrific singers.  Schultz does amazing movement work on such a small area.  And Bray, thankfully doesn’t overpower the actors/singers with the music and does re-usher in a nostalgic sound for me.

One issue that doesn’t work for me was the use of cell phones in the production.  I realize they want to make this relevant for today but the story is still about the 60’s and Nam and is no place for those devices.  Also, a personal note, I lived through this era, so it becomes personal for me and some of the audience, too, I’m sure.  But, this event in history cannot really, fully be re-created—it was a Happening (like Woodstock), as we would call it. 

And so (no offense), production companies/casts of younger generations can only copy those moments, not re-create them.  An updated version from the authors, I’ve heard, is in the works for Broadway, so we’ll see what the future holds for this classic story…that is still being duplicated…and must be stopped, this inhumanity to others, if we are to survive as a relevant world order!

I highly recommend this production (keeping in mind, it does contain adult situations and language).  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.