Laurel Mill Playhouse HairBy Bob Ashby • Jun 4th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Laurel Mill Playhouse: (Info) (Web)
Laurel Mill Playhouse, Laurel, MD
Through June 9th
2:30, with intermission
$18/$15 Students, Seniors
Reviewed June 1st, 2013
1968 was the most terrible year in my lifetime, a year for the crushing of dreams. January/February: the Tet Offensive, a tactical defeat for North Vietnam that ended the illusion that American victory was imminent or even possible. March: Lyndon Johnson declared he would not run again, putting paid to hopes for the Great Society. April: Martin Luther King was murdered, leading to days of riots across the country and putting deeply in doubt his dream of non-violent, integrated social change. June: Bobby Kennedy was murdered, ending a possible revival of “Camelot” and supporters’ hopes of a Democratic presidential campaign focused on peace in Vietnam and justice at home. August: the Soviet army invaded Czechoslovakia, ending the hopeful Prague Spring. The next week, Mayor Daley’s police rioted against protestors outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago. November: Richard Nixon was elected President.
The hippie phenomenon — colorful and culturally influential beyond its relatively modest numbers — had peaked by the time the Galt McDermott/James Rado/Gerome Ragni musical Hair opened on Broadway that year. To some extent, Hair was a nostalgia piece even when it first opened (a point apparently lost on civic authorities in several cities who tried to ban productions for years afterward). Forty-five years later, its nostalgia for a day when sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll promised community, freedom, and release from stultifying social constraint is palpable. Laurel Mills Playhouse’s exuberant production vividly conveys the passion and confusion of young people trying to cope with the exhilaration and anxiety of an unusually turbulent and difficult time.
Hair is, above all, an ensemble show. Many of the show’s best musical numbers — pieces like “Aquarius,” “Ain’t Got No,” “Hair,” “Be-In (Hare Krishna),” “Initials,” “Walking in Space,” “Three-Five-Zero-Zero,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and “Let the Sunshine In” — involve the entire 23-person cast, and the “tribe,” as the show calls it, sings vibrantly, in tune, and with great enthusiasm. The great strength of this production is that throughout the evening — filled with many more musical numbers than the average Broadway show and with several active movement sequences — the group’s energy and commitment to the time and cultural setting never flag.
Among the soloists, the standout is Felicia Akunwafor (Dionne), who sizzles in “White Boys” and has important bits in several other numbers. (“Black Boys/White Boys” is far and away the hottest moment of the show, musically and sexually.) Other notable soloists include the lovely Avia Fields (Ronny), who starts the show in fine style with the lead in “Aquarius” and later adds a nice Shakespearian moment in “What a Piece of Work is Man” (the show is full of references to the Bard, incidentally). Teresa Pipito (Sheila) has fine lyric moments in “Easy to be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine.” Brook Urquhart (Woof) and Terrence Bennett (Hud) are always arresting on stage, moving well, looking good, and singing convincingly in numbers like “Sodomy” and “Colored Spade,” respectively. David Hale has a very funny drag bit as anthropological tourist Margaret Mead in “My Conviction,” very welcome in a show that, given the earnestness of most of the characters, is not brimming over with humor. The two largest male roles are done somewhat less satisfactorily, with Paul D. Grodt as a lumpish Berger (peering out from behind a dreadful wig) and Charles Freeman who, as Claude, does not range far from a deer-in-the-headlights approach to his character.
Director Michael Hartsfield and Urquhart, who choreographed the show as well as appearing in it, deserve credit for shoehorning the large cast into Laurel Mill’s small space without creating distracting traffic management problems. While the space limits movement options — there is probably one too many instances of the entire cast moving around in a circle in the same direction — there are several sequences involving choreographed movement in place that are very effectively done. In addition, the succession of quick entrances and exits in the second act drug trip scene livens up that pace at that point of the show.
Hartsfield’s set consists a central playing area with two rear corner platforms often used for soloists, enabling them to be seen clearly above the ensemble who are positioned downstage of them in many numbers. An upstage flat, with a large circular entrance surrounded by a yellow sun corona, leads to “The Love Pit,” where music director Alice Laurissa’s band is placed. The band — playing McDermott’s eclectic score, which runs from rock to pop to blues to ballads to semi-talked pieces — plays strongly and accurately throughout; Laurissa maintains a good balance with the singers, who with rare exceptions can be heard clearly. While lighting resources are limited, there are some nice touches, such as a circular psychedelic effect at a few points and an underwater look in part of the drug trip scene. Costumes were period-appropriate and colorful and, fortunately for a show with this title, the hair (leaving aside a few awkward wigs) would pass for 60s.
The first act of Hair has an almost revue-like structure: the ensemble is gathered on stage and, one after another, various soloists or small groups perform their numbers either downstage center or on the upstage corner platforms. There is no semblance of a plot, the act concerning itself mostly with conveying the feelings of tribe members about their lives. The famous nude tableau near the end of the act, deliciously scandalous 45 years ago, is done decorously in low light, perhaps more decorously than would have appealed to 1960s protestors.
In the second act, which focuses more on the war and the antiwar movement, there is a plot thread involving the indecision of Claude concerning how to respond to his draft notice. The latter part of the second act consequently becomes rather dark — not unrealistically for the world of 1968 — needing to be rescued by a reprise of “Let the Sunshine In” to end on a more hopeful note. The real source of hope in the show — especially for those of us who lived through the turmoil of the 1960s — is its reminder that youthful energy and sexuality chronically find a path to renewal, even in worlds turned upside down.
Photos by Larry Simmons
- Berger: Paul D. Grodt
- Woof: Brook Urquhart
- Hud: Terrence Bennett
- Claude: Charles Freeman
- Jeanie: Kat McKerrow
- Dionne: Felicia Akunwafor
- Crissy: Julie Rogers
- Sheila: Teresa Pipito
- Leaf/Margaret Mead: David Hale
- Walter/Hubert: Jose Pineda
- Ronny: Avia Fields
- Leata: Sara Ritmiller
- Paula: Cheyenne Johnson
- Steve: Marquis Evans
- Hiram: Fatimah Steffanoff
- Suzannah: Joanna Cross
- Mary: Madeleine Jones
- Emmaretta: La’Angel Hall
- Diane: Jill Schneider
- Majorie: Melanie Pino-Elliott
- Linda: Andrea Tanner
- Natalie: Kristin Hessenauer
- Alice: Jenifer Hollett
- Director/Keyboards: Alice Laurissa
- Pianist: Elaine Beckman
- Drums: Will Poxon
- Guitar: Chris Mercado
- Bass: Tom Tomlinson
- Trombone: Megan Zontek
- Clarinet: Kiarra Johnson
- Producer: Maureen Rogers
- Director: Michael Hartsfield
- Musical Director: Alice Laurissa
- Choreographer: Brook Urquhart
- Stage Manager: Janet Olsen
- Light/Sound Operators: Michael Hartsfield, Rob Allen, Lori Bruun
- Set Design/Set Construction: Michael Hartsfield
- Set Painting: Michael Hartsfield, Julie Rogers
- Lighting Design: Michael Hartsfield, Marvin Rogers
- Sound Design: Alice Laurissa, Michael Hartsfield
- Costumes/Hair/Make-Up: Kat Mckerrow & Cast
- Properties: Janet Olsen, Michael Hartsfield, Kat McKerrow
- Set Dressing: Michael Hartsfield
- Head Shots/Photos: John Cholod, Larry Simmons, Marvin Rogers
- Program/Publicity/Box Office: Maureen Rogers
- Concessions: Diana Simmons, Larry Simmons
- Website: John Cholod
Disclaimer: Laurel Mill Playhouse provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9539.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.