For the last two weekends, TU’s theater program has been presenting a production of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.” The play, set in 1968, focuses on a group of young hippies and their experiences in the heyday of their counterculture.
Saying “Hair” doesn’t have a plot would be misguided, but the lack of a concrete sequence of event progression throughout the story definitely made the play feel initially confusing. The play was instead focused on the stories of individual characters and how they’re influenced by each other and the larger culture and politics of the 1960s. Some events, like the Vietnam War, do end up affecting the whole group of characters in some way, but the event zeroes in on character interactions.
Speaking of characters, almost every character was on stage for the entirety of the show. When a character addresses the group, everyone will listen and react with with varying levels of intensity corresponding to their character. When some characters are having more intimate conversations at the front of the stage, other characters are interacting casually further back on the stage. This helps the stage feel dynamic and drives home the “tribe” aspect of the play. When larger events involve the whole cast, it feels more powerful because they’ve spent the whole play interacting and living together.
The tribal aspect of the play also expresses itself in the music and costumes. Because the whole cast is on stage at most times, they also participate in the songs, helping the music feel grandiose. Often, one person or a small group of people will lead, but the rest of the cast provides strong backing for the soloist. The music also manages to feel very reminiscent of popular music styles in the 1960s. Everything from rock to soul to funk is represented, making the play feel like a representation of the full musical span of the decade.
The costumes for the cast ranged from free flowing dresses and unbuttoned button-up shirts to one character wearing little other than a leather thong. These atypical designs emphasize the importance of freedom to the characters, who are happy to point out their clothes, as well as their hair. Each character wears long or large natural hair, often a focal point for the play. There are major songs dedicated to hair and the freedom from society it brings, and hair being cut represents a complete loss of individuality for characters.
When a character does leave the stage, they often come back in a costume representing some authority figure, like a teacher or parent, and pretend to criticize the members of the tribe for their choices. This helped establish the ideologies of the tribe members without awkwardly having them explain their beliefs to each other. These new outsider characters would often enter from behind the audience or a high platform on stage left, drawing the audience’s attention to many different areas of the stage and keeping them on their toes.
The cast also interacted with the audience directly at many points. During the first song, singers quickly rattle off questions to audience members in the front row, and the whole cast exited at the end of the first act by giving the audience flyers to the characters’ “be-in” protest staged in the second act.
During songs, the walls above and around the stage were covered in projections, which were sometimes complementary and sometimes distracting. They were mostly used as a background element, but occasionally the emphasis on shifting color and some simple graphics (such as a series of music notes or a peace sign on the back wall) felt unnecessary.
This didn’t largely retract from the immersiveness of the play, or it’s excellent level of audience engagement. “Hair” felt intelligently staged, unique and fun for its viewers and its cast.