By PAM HARBAUGH
While pop culture remains agog with “Mad Men,” there is plenty to consider on opposite side of the 1960s coin — the counterculture that slapped a nation in its face. As the lyrics state “My eyes are open” and nothing remained the same. Yes, it’s the 1960s musical “Hair,” this time 1960s at Mad Cow Theatre in Orlando.
Set in New York’s East Village in 1968 – then a tough location filled with drugs and crime and squatters –the loosely organized musical concerns a group of hippies who burn draft cards, protest the Vietnam War, practice free love and smoke dope.
Lyricists James Rado and the late Gerome Ragni showed some deep talent in crafting songs that painted apt pictures of 1968 hippie life and some of those in the anti-war movement. But, their “careers,” were as ephemeral as the “happenings.” They never did much beyond this musical. And composer Galt MacDermot turned out some unforgettable tunes. These are the iconic songs that resonate so – from the druggy “Walking in Space” and the pop-pounding “Black Boys” / “White Boys” to the lofty “What a Piece of Work is Man” and happy “Good Morning Sunshine.” Afterwards, MacDermot worked on minor projects and drifted into relative obscurity.
But this moment in theatrical time does, thankfully, abide. There are some gorgeous voices in this show, especially Kaylin Seckel (“Aquarius”), Byron DeMent (Claude – “Where Do I Go?”), Heather Kopp (“Easy to Be Hard”) and Joanna Yeakel (“Frank Mills”).
Newcomer Jake Mullen is quite a find. As Margaret Mead, he sails through “My Conviction” with humor, grace and aplomb. And Sean Michael Flynn is a fun ball of energy as a nameless tribe-member. Keep an eye on both of these talented young men.
To my thinking, the best review of this musical was uttered as an aside by Bryan Cranston when he received his Tony Award last Sunday. He said, in part: “My first Broadway play was in 1977. I snuck into the second act of ‘Hair.’ To this day, I still haven’t seen the first act, but they tell me the second act was better….”
Granted, he finished by saying there was supposedly more nudity in the second act. But really, there’s more story in the second act. The first act is basically a “be-in” where you get to know some annoying, self-indulgent hippies. At least they have good songs to sing.
But then, oh my, comes the second act, which actually has a bit of a storyline. This is where director Elena Day and choreographer Ellie Potts Barrett excel. It takes those who are old enough back to the era of Vietnam War. You sink into the reality – again – that it was all for nothing. That all those lives were tossed into political volcanos. That they were the dominoes that fell, not nations.
Certainly, if you love the music – so well performed by cast and musicians — or just want to feel that connection well up within you again, then by all means head to the Mad Cow to see this unusual musical. Hopefully, by now they will have fixed the sound system which screeched and annoyed so on opening night.
Photo by Tom Hurst
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Hair” runs through July 6 at Mad Cow Theatre, 54 W. Church St., Orlando. Tickets begin at $26.25. Call 407-297-8788 or visit www.madcowtheatre.com.