Review: Old Globe, liberated after a 17-month hiatus, delivers a ‘Hair’ production that’s lively, colorful and well-sung
The 1960s counterculture musical, which marks the Balboa Park theater return to live performances, works hard to make the production relevant but feels muted in parts
After a 17-month hiatus, the Old Globe returned to live performances Sunday, Aug. 15 with a sense of freedom and liberation, 1960s-style, with the opening of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.”
A capacity crowd — with many attendees in masks and some dressed in fringed vests, headbands and go-go boots — gave the counterculture musical a warm welcome. Older attendees embraced it with enthusiastic nostalgia and younger ones with new eyes.
The Globe has been promoting the show — presented on its outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre stage — as a period musical with fresh relevance for 2021, which is in some ways true. Although its innocent hippie peace-and-love sentiment seems naïve and dated today, its songs about racism against Black people and blind patriotism to the American flag still snap with timeliness.
Director James Vásquez and costume designer David Israel Reynoso faithfully honor the show’s time and place in 1968 Manhattan, but there’s fierce bite in the notes sung by Alex Joseph Grayson, the militant Black character Hud. And the satiric flag song “Don’t Put it Down (Crazy for the Red, Blue and White)” becomes a group anthem for cultural pride, with multiethnic cast members unfurling the flags of Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Philippines.
Through today’s lens, Vásquez presents a tribe that’s far more ethnically diverse than usual and also more sexually fluid. While the language of the play is still provocative, the famous unity-themed, full-cast nude scene at the end of the first act is so dimly lit and brief, its poignance is muted. And due to COVID protocols, the staging elements that made the 2009 Broadway revival an audience-interactive party, are tightly restrained.
The swirling choreography by Mayte Natalio fills the stage with color and liveliness and the 16-member cast’s voices are strong, particularly that of Nyla Sostre as Dionne, who opens the show with a soulful performance of “Aquarius.”
At times like that, the show lifts off. At others, it can feel like a costume drama with an old-fashioned setup of one show tune arranged after another to introduce each character.
The central character in “Hair” is Claude, a conflicted young man whose draft number is called up to fight in the Vietnam War. He seeks refuge with the hippie tribe but struggles between his loyalties to them and to family and country.
Claude is both a Christ-like and Shakespearean tragic character with monologues directly lifted from “Hamlet” and, in this production, leading an evocative “Last Supper” scene. Actor Tyler Hardwick — who was part of the national touring pre-pandemic production of “Once On This Island” — plays Claude as childlike and a painfully lost sacrificial lamb. It can’t be a coincidence that he resembles a scared boy in his oversized army uniform, standing in a column of falling snow as his “solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew.”
A charismatic Andrew Polec — who had a long run in both the London and New York productions of “Bat Out of Hell: The Musical” — works the audience masterfully as Berger, the libidinous, self-absorbed ringmaster of the tribe.
Storm Lever’s (last seen in San Diego in La Jolla Playhouse’s “Fly”) performance as Sheila can be found on the other side of the spectrum: understated and restrained, at least compared to that of Hardwick and Polec.
Angel Lozada is endearing as the gender-fluid Woof, and there’s something adorable about Bailey Day Sonner’s Crissy, an innocent girl in love with a Hell’s Angel, and also disturbing about Jeanie, played by Jaygee Macapugay, as a pregnant tribe member who celebrates her frequent drug use.
“Hair” runs a briskly paced two hours, 10 minutes. Although it might benefit from a bit more grit and grief, it’s enjoyable and still a little bit shocking. But is it relevant today? It’s interesting that the anti-war musical opened on the same day this nation’s 20-year war in Afghanistan came to an end, with a U.S. pullout as invading forces seized the capital city — just like in the final days of the Vietnam War. But the show’s look, style and delivery makes it feel like a piece of theatrical history long past.
‘Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical’
When: Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Oct. 3; performances start at 8 p.m. now through Sept. 11, and at 7 p.m. Sept 12 through Oct. 3.
Where: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego
Tickets: $37 and up
Phone: (619) 234-5623
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