The ’60s musical Hair takes the stage at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre
Hart House Theatre’s choice to produce Hair, one of the most controversial and infamous musicals in the rep could not be more timely or delightful. The musical’s relevance as a pop culture influencer is undeniable. I was born more than 10 years after the premiere performance and I am very familiar with many of the anthems and the key themes. It is now 50 years on from the 1968 premiere and we are in the era of #metoo rather than free love. Suffice it to say, I was curious to see this show through an early 21st century filter.
All politics aside, the show is just plain rockin’ good fun. Hair is the genesis of the Rock Opera. Well-known, singable tunes that everybody knows are paired with dense, art-rock harmonies of the period. The period costumes are colourful and nostalgic. The plot, such as it is, meanders dazed and confused, bringing a surreal quality to fairly heavy subject matter. If you do not mind the nudity, profanity, and celebration of drugs the key theme of “make love, not war” is expressed with a narrative simplicity that a child could grasp.
Of course, it is impossible to put politics aside when discussing Hair, and I won’t try. The cast clearly savoured the politics and the fun of this show. Resonance with the characters and themes shone through on stage.
Consistent with the theme of unity, the score has a preponderance of big group sings. These numbers often have solos for specific cast members. The cast has clearly developed a lot of unity while putting this production together. Their performance of the famous opening number “Aquarius” is energetic and draws out the sweetness of the harmonies, effectively setting the love and good vibes tone of the piece. Georgia Fox’s performance of the opening solo in “Aquarius” is smooth and rich like warm butter, demonstrating a superb command of R&B as well as musical theatre techniques.
The performance of the title song was a rousing celebration of letting your freak flag fly with exceptionally strong performances from Christian Hodge in the role of Claude and Andrew Perry in the role of Berger. Berger and Claude hold this number together with the support of the company (known as “The Tribe” in this work).
Christian Hodge was very convincing as youthful idealist Claude, whose pacifist, free-loving heart is poorly suited to the realities of a brutal, futile war. Claude nevertheless succumbs to familial and social pressure to heed the call of the draft card.
Being a big fan of the well-known Nina Simone cover, I enjoyed his take on “I got life”. The delivery was straightforward and the sentiment of loving life for its own sake, rather than for material possessions rang through as sincere. It’s also simply adorable when he shakes his little tush at the line about having an ass.
Marisa Dashney is stunning in the role of social justice warrior Sheila. Her performance of “Easy to Be Hard” and leadership of the period classic “Good Morning Starshine” demonstrated superb range and control and a dynamic, open-hearted stage presence.
While I detest the modern fad for using the word “tribe” to refer to any loosely affiliated social group, it has a lot more meaning in this show. Hair was the first integrated musical to show Blacks in equal relationships with Whites, with a third of the roles going to Black performers. While some of the racial themes are crudely articulated, the underlying point – we are all created equal and deserving of justice and self-determination – is still timely in these strange times of “build the wall” chants.
In fact, all of the political and social themes, spanning from women’s empowerment, sexual freedom, environmentalism, pacifism and anti-prohibition are all still shockingly relevant. It is also inspiring. There have always been forces at work that promote hatred and fear for personal gain. And there has always been a resistance on multiple fronts, including the stage. It’s easy to love this happy-go-lucky band of hippies in the face of all this hate. If the news cycles of the last two years especially have been getting you down, see this to recharge your spirit and let your own freak flag fly.
- Hair is playing until February 2, 2019 at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle).
- Showtimes are 8:00 PM on January 18, 19, 23-26, 30-31, February 1 & 2, with an additional matinee at 2 PM on February 2.
- Ticket prices range from $12-18. Adults: $28, Senior: $17, Students: $15, $12 on Wednesday.
- Tickets are available online, or by phone at 416-978-8849.
Photo of Andrew Perry and Company by Scott Gorman