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I was 14 when HAIR opened on Broadway in 1968. Although I was not considered old enough to see what had been billed as “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical,” my mother was chaperoning my sister’s class trip to the city, which was slated to include a stroll in The Village, a matinee of HAIR and a sumptuous repast at Tad’s Steak House in the theatre district of Manhattan. My sister had given me the cast album for Hanukkah, and I had listened to it non-stop for months before learning of the trip; when I begged my mother to take me along, she obtained permission from the school and off we went.
Of the 47 productions on Broadway that year, only 12 were musicals, and only one considered noteworthy: the Neil Simon/Burt Bacharach/Hal David collaboration, “Promises, Promises,” starring Jerry Orbach. Oh, and a little show called HAIR. Originally produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival Theatre, HAIR was written by honest-to-goodness hippies Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with a score by Galt MacDermot. It made waves on Broadway with songs like “Aquarius,” “Easy to be Hard,” “Let the Sunshine In,” and the anti-war anthem “Three-Five-Zero-Zero.” Nothing like HAIR—which featured scenes containing profanity, nudity and drug use—had ever been seen before, and had it not been for the sheer brilliance behind the scenes, would likely have faded away with Tad’s amazing baked potatoes, replete with all the fixin’s.
The original cast, including Ragni and Rado, featured unknowns Leata Galloway, Shelley Plimpton, Diane Keaton and Melba Moore, all of whom made lasting impressions portraying characters like Berger, Sheila, Claude and Woof—and it’s happening again at the Forestburgh Playhouse with amazing, powerful, emotionally-laden performances from Chris Persichetti, Chiara Trentalange, Alex Walton and Andrew Stevens Purdy, respectively. In addition, Abeba Isaac, James Johnson, GraceAnn Kontak, Sam Pearson and John Zamborsky each have memorable moments in the show, fiercely supported by a fantastical “tribe” of long-haired dropouts gloriously singing the praises of peace, love and happiness.
This incarnation of HAIR beautifully serves as a love letter to the original production and is practically flawless. Ashleigh Poteat’s costumes perfectly reflect the time period and Tim Golebiewski’s stunning set allows the actors to effortlessly move about the stage with fluidity, as the musical story of a nation at war unfolds. Fortunately, Travis Byrne’s sound design is for all intents and purposes “right on.” Make no mistake, HAIR is a collaborative effort; had any of the individual ingredients faltered, the show could not succeed. Fortunately for us, the cast is more than up to the challenge. Their voices soar through the performance of more than 30 incredibly well-crafted songs, as they embody the very spirit of a generation that changed how we look at the world. What could be more perfect than to experience HAIR right here in Sullivan County, which played host to the Woodstock Music Festival 50 years ago? And thanks to the concerted efforts of all concerned, it’s clear that the folks both on and off the stage have been affected by this incredibly profound and powerful show and its lasting effect on the world-at-large. Fourteen-year-old me loved it the first time around, and old-hippie me was thrilled to relive HAIR in all its flaxen glory.
For tickets and information visit www.fbplayhouse.org or call 845/794-2005.