Forty-odd years since it first appeared on Broadway, “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” still manages to draw in the crowds. The play brings its audience on a wild trip filled with 1960s nostalgia, youthful exuberance, and brazen nudity. UC Santa Cruz’s production is no exception — Friday’s opening night broke the record for most pre-sale tickets snatched up by any show at the university.
The performance follows the antics and angst of a tribe of free-wheeling hippies pursuing a life of freedom against the ominous backdrop of the Vietnam War.
Though light on plot, the characters and musical numbers take on heavy themes: drugs, racism, and sexuality. These were some of the most pertinent issues of the hippie era, the largest counter-culture movement in American history.
“Hair” invented the rock musical genre, and UCSC’s production is simultaneously light-hearted and provocative.
Director Danny Scheie manages to let all of the 60-plus members of the cast showcase their talents. There is rarely a moment when the majority of them aren’t on stage either dancing, singing, or feigning a drug-induced stupor.
From the opening song “Aquarius” to the finale “Let the Sun Shine In,” audience members get the chance to watch these classic 1960s anthems come back to life.
Characters that stood out were an endearing, Mick Jagger-worshipping Woof, played by Jeremy Helgeson, and cross-dressing tourist Margaret Mead, played by Ashkan Jahromi. Jahromi — coiffed with a beehive to rival Amy Winehouse — performed “My Conviction” and had the audience howling with laughter.
The second act took on a darker tone, when the hippie tribe’s leader Claude is drafted to fight in a war he is firmly against. Kelvyn Mitchell’s portrayal of the romantic and idealistic Claude was poignant, and demonstrated that despite the carefree attitude of his tribe, the party can’t go on forever.
The choreography was impressive, and featured everything from an undulating, psychedelic mass to bouncy head-banging. The costumes — probably collected from downtown thrift stores — were authentic and vibrant.
The cast of hippies engaged everyone, dancing in the aisles and belting songs at the top of their lungs. They were comfortable on stage, and at one point, the entire tribe ripped off their Hare Krishna robes, leaving nothing to the imagination.
The show may not be for everyone. The overt sexuality and irreverence will make many blush, and the unsuspecting viewer will definitely get an eyeful.
This year’s cast represents some of the best student musical and acting talent that UCSC has to offer, not to mention the most epic hair. The free love of “Hair” is fun, silly, crazy, and definitely worth seeing.
Get your tickets and join the Be-in.