Theater Review: 'Hair'

By: 
Ben Miles
The cast of Hair.

“Hair” became among the most controversial stage productions of the 20th century. Referred to as a rock musical—with a book by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and with music by Galt McDermot—“Hair” premiered at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in October of 1967. In 1968, it ran on Broadway for 1,750 performances. Created at the height of the American debacle in Vietnam, many of the show’s songs, such as “Easy to Be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine,” have become pop standards that still evoke those tumultuous times of war and of resistance-to-war.

Now, fifty-two years after its New York debut “Hair” is on the boards at the Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theatre, through November 16. Directed by Rovin Jay, the challenge of organizing the theatrical chaos of “Hair” is mostly met by Jay and his choreographing colleague, Sonya L. Randall.

Though the large cast of 17 players is enthusiastic and devoted to the story, as is the live seven piece orchestra (Stephen Olear serves as Hair’s music director), it’s too often difficult for them to overcome the faulty sound system designed by Adrienne van Dalen. Nevertheless, several performers manage to transcend the acoustic difficulties and glow under the “starshine” of the show’s score.

Among the “Hair” actors that standout in this staging are Latonya Kitchen as Dionne ((who delivers a rousing rendition of “Aquarius”); Jacob Rachuy Stephenson as Berger (who brings a smile to us in the audience with his performance of “Donna”); Jules Ronquillo as Woof (and his dicey interpretation of “Sodomy”); and the Gregory Bystritsky as the callow Claude (and his perplexing showcase song “Where Do I Go?”); and Justyn High as Sheila (she a gives a heartrending voice to “Easy to Be Hard”).

“Hair” is the tale of the so-called tribe a posse of sorts accurately described as sixties hippies rebelling against the military draft and the war in Vietnam. Originally set in New York City, this production cleverly makes reference to local map-marks, such as Belmont Shore, Pacific Coast Highway and Long Beach Boulevard.  While altering the geography of the action, the themes of “Hair” remain in place and relevant, including the culture-shifting sexual revolution, political protests and dysphemisms against the U.S. President.

Other cast members earning honorable mention are the singularly monikered Lorne as Hud;  David Ponce as Mother; Corey Patterson as Tomlin; Celia Ruskin as Chrissy; Corey Patterson as Tomlin; and Mikey Israel as Venus.

“Hair” is an audience involving show that sometimes pulls theatergoers onstage to cavort. Traditionally, and the Long Beach show is no exception, spectators are encouraged to dance and sing the finale number “Aquarius.” It’s an event that is bonding, memorable and a energizing way to end the show.

“Hair” continues in the Studio Theater of the Long Beach Playhouse through November 16.

The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 East Anaheim Street, Long Beach, 90804.

Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m.

For reservations call (562) 494-1014 or visit boxoffice@lbplayhouse.org.

ben@beachcomber.news

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