God bless Diane Paulus and her vision for making live theater fully and deliciously accessible to new waves of audiences! Boston’s most recent evidence of her impact on the world of theater was offered in last night’s Opening Night of “Hair” at the venerable Colonial Theater - in many ways the Hub’s Grande Dame of legitimate theater spaces. The demure old lady was rockin’ last night. The loops, whorls and arches of Paulus’ fingerprints are all over this 2009 Tony winning production of the classic tribal rock musical. This show contains everything I have come to expect from Paulus and her vision and execution: a strong ensemble cast with powerful singing and dancing, a world class creative team crafting choreography, set, costume, lighting and sound design that blend together synergistically to reinforce the central vision for the show.
There are two other elements that are omnipresent in Paulus’ shows: full use of the performance space and joyful audience participation. As she has done at the Loeb and Oberon performance spaces at the A.R.T. where she serves as Artistic Director, Paulus had her cast invading every part of the house – mezzanine boxes, aisles, the band, scaffolding and even several seats in Row M in Center Orchestra! Her approach to staging a show dissolves the mythical “fourth wall.” And in so doing, she also pierces the veil that holds audiences at bay – and often keeps them away from live theater. I watched a multi-generational audience last night enraptured - from Phyre Hawkins’ opening notes to the “Happening” that took place on stage with audience members dancing and singing with the cast after the curtain calls.
Having lived through the ‘60’s and having attended a live performance of the original production of “Hair,” I was not sure what to expect when I returned more than 40 years later. Would it feel like a dusty museum piece, an old chestnut? My apprehensions evaporated quickly from the heat and energy of the cast – a group that clearly enjoy their chosen profession. This show is no creaky antique, but a vibrant celebration of an era and an ethos that informed the life experiences of many of us Baby Boomers. But it also reaches across the decades and generations to speak to the three wars in which our nation is currently engaged. The final haunting image of Claude laid out atop an American flag was both moving and timely.
Let’s consider the cast. They are uniformly excellent. Among those who stood out in last night’s performance was Steel Burkhardt as Berger. Berger is the emotional and energy center of the show, and the actor was more than equal to the task. He also led the charge in terms of playful interaction with audience members, and he had young and old alike eating out of his hand. His strong voice and magnetic stage presence anchor an impressive ensemble. Matt DeAngelis as Woof is not only a member of the Hair tribe, he is a proud member of Red Sox Nation. He hails from Boxford, Massachusetts. His energy and slightly goofy joie de vivre are perfect for this role. Paris Remillard as Clause, Kacie Sheik as Jeanie and Caren Lyn Tacket as Sheila are among the principals who deserve special recognition. Among the tribe members, Marshal Kennedy Carolan’s vocal contribution to “What a Piece of Work is Man," is noteworthy, as is Arbender Robinson’s ability to create a bond with the audience through his infectious smile and enthusiasm. Kaitlin Liyan as Crissy offered a delicately nuanced version of "Frank Mills" that was both sweet and poignant. Also deserving of special mention are Allison Guinn as Mother and Josh Lamon as Dad/Margaret Meade. Lamon’s rendition of “My Conviction” was a show stopper.
I had press credentials to this show, so technically I should have been sitting in the audience dispassionately assessing the pros and cons of this production. I am sorry, but all pretense of objectivity went out the window when I felt myself ineluctably drawn to the stage with other enthusiastic audience members to weave and sing the reprise of “Let the Son Shine In.” And that, at the end of the day, is what this show, its creators and its actors and musicians have accomplished. They shine a light of joy and reflection into the heart of all but the most stodgy of theater goers and remind us that the best of the ‘60’s still reverberates in the new Millennium.
Go see this show and bring along family and friends of all ages. Let the sun shine in!