The musical Hair debuted Off-Broadway in 1967. After many revisions, the “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” opened on Broadway in 1968.
The book and lyrics were written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, featuring characters inspired by themselves and their own views on the hippie counterculture, the war in Vietnam, racial injustice, drug use, and the sexual revolution.
Rado later described the inspiration for Hair as “a combination of some characters we met in the streets, people we knew, and our own imaginations.” Ragni and Rado starred in the original Broadway production.
PEACE & LOVE
Ragni’s onstage alter ego George Berger is the eternal extrovert and an ambassador for all things elicit. Rado’s stage persona became Claude Bukowski, a timid young man terrified of the police action in Vietnam and the thought of losing freedoms at home in America.
Berger and Claude both face the likelihood of being drafted. Unaccepted by their families, the two prefer to spend their time in the streets with a collection of like-minded young people including Dionne, Woof, Hud, Crissy, Sheila, and Jeanie – all with their own shining qualities and mounting struggles.
Ragni and Rado never really felt like their work was complete. The two continued to collaborate on revisions to the script up until Ragni’s death in 1991. Rado then continued to make changes to the script on his own until his death in 2022.
I first met Rado in the mid-1990s when I was approached about playing Berger in a planned U.S. national tour. He still sported the long hair that was so integral to the identity of the iconic rock musical. After singing Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar and the Prologue from Little Shop of Horrors, he had me sing some of the songs from the show. After my performance of Berger’s song Donna, Rado welcomed me into this his new tribe with open arms.
Unfortunately, though, that tour did not end up happening. Tours and revivals falling through can happen more often than not in the industry. I never ended up doing Hair anywhere else either, but my time working with Rado did instill in me a love for the musical.
TIMES ARE CHANGING
Because Rado continued to make changes to the script year after year – some of them drastic – the production of Hair now being staged by MadKap Productions at Skokie Theatre is very different than what I am familiar with. But, just because something is different than what you are used to doesn’t make it bad. I found a number of the script changes to be beneficial to communicating the story and messages.
It is a story not about how different hippies are from society, but how they should be included as a part of the normal of society. All people should be accepted as “normal” and loved for who they are.
The music by Galt MacDermot is still central to Hair. Director Derek Van Barham and music director Jeremy Ramey recognize this and have filled their cast with an array of very talented singers.
Niki-Charisse Franco opens the show with the stunner Aquarius. When this song is done right it is an anthem of epic proportions. Franco does the song right. Bridgett Martinez as Crissy and Chevy Dixon Saul as a member of the Tribe also have voices that can send you on an emotional adventure.
MadKap’s Claude and Berger, Joey Chelius and Shraga D. Wasserman respectively, are both strong singers. Not only a talented singer, Chelius truly captures the essence of a young man so disenfranchised with his real life that he creates a fictional history for himself as a child of Manchester, England.
In addition to offering crafty vocals, Wasserman can be applauded for embracing their character choices with 100% conviction. Wasserman instills in Berger a wiry wiggle that consistently entertains like a scarecrow on LSD.
Sam Hook is a standout as Woof, a young man who is physically in love with Mick Jagger and emotionally attached to the notions of peace and love. Julie Peterson gets the fun task of portraying Jeanie – a girl tripping on any and all forms of psychedelics, resulting in behavior that borders on the absurd.
Alexandria Neyhart is simply ethereal as Berger’s love interest Sheila – who is also Claude’s obsession. Justice Largin shows off some nice pipes on songs like Colored Spade. As the title of that song suggests, the show does contain adult language and themes. It also includes tastefully executed nudity.
Additional members of the Tribe are Jack Chylinski, Jonah Cochin, Ben Isabe, Cristian Moreno, and Hannah Silverman. The onstage musicians in the band include Ramey, Craig Buckner, Michael Bulaw, and Nate Hall.
CUE THE LIGHTS
Lighting design by Pat Henderson is a delightful surprise. Rather than giving us a lights up/lights down event, Henderson’s lights are choreographed to match the mood of the music and the movements of the actors both onstage and throughout the house. In many ways, the lights become another character and an integral part of the storytelling process.
Barry Norton and Scott Richardson demonstrate that you don’t need a lot of scenery or expensive props to put on a quality show. They accomplish a lot with a little.
There were some noticeable sound issues on the night being reviewed. However, I have every reason to believe they were not indicative of normal events, and sound designer Chris Cook will have things humming smoothly for the rest of the run.
Wendy Kaplan and Wayne Mell of MadKap Productions are experts at putting on great shows that audiences delight in experiencing and Hair fits the bill nicely. The Skokie Theatre is a beautiful facility with comfortable seats, great sightlines, and plenty of free parking in the area. Located at 7924 Lincoln Avenue in Skokie, the Skokie Theatre is convenient to both city and suburbs.
Hair at Skokie Theatre is a surefire winner playing through July 30. It features great singers singing great songs and a script that has continued to evolve with the times. Be sure to get your tickets now, and also make plans to see the upcoming two performances dates of the not-to-be-missed tour of Victoria Montalbano in the hit comedy The Princess Strikes Back on August 11 and August 18.
For ticket information for all Skokie Theatre events visit www.SkokieTheatre.org or call the box office at (847) 677-7761.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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