theater

In Review: HAIR at Titusville Playhouse

HAIR the musical on stage at Titusville Playhouse. Photo by Niko Stamos.

 

By KEENAN CARVER
Brevard Culture Theater Critic

The youth questioning their president, arguments over the American flag, the looming fear of nuclear war– haven’t we moved on from the 1960’s?

Never has there been a better time to revive what can seem like taboo topics. Titusville Playhouse’s “HAIR” tackles these issues with ease and poise as they move through the Age of Aquarius on their search for peace… and drugs.

Written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Gait MacDermot, “HAIR” opened off-Broadway in 1967 and a year later was on the Great White Way. Its 2009 revival won a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for best musical revival.

In it, Claude (an even-paced Ethan Lolley) struggles between the freedom that the hippie lifestyle offers and the madness of the current society ramped with war, hate, and crime. He shares a commune with his lovers, Berger (a strong Fredy Ruiz) and Sheila (a captivating Natalie Palmer). They challenge Claude to resist the ways of the cruel outside world and assimilate into the tribe and its strange love octagon.

Titusville Playhouse has a knack for putting together strong ensembles of powerful vocalists and actors who forge great characters and deliver great memorable moments, especially Jocelyn Evans who wowed audiences. Their tribe comprises two dozen performers, many fresh off of the season opener “Newsies,” such as supporting actor a very funny Kyle McDonald who almost steals the show. As Dionne, the ever-radiant Lillie Eliza Thomas starts the night off right in the show opener “Aquarius.” A moving rendition of “Easy To Be Hard” by Natalie Palmer coupled with large ensemble numbers like the title track “Hair” and “Initials,” make it a night of great theater.

Being a “tribal love-rock” musical, at times “Hair” feels like a concert. Excellent lighting design (Luke Atkinson) really cements the show and gives it a psychedelic feel. The addition of live music is always a special touch when technical capabilities allow, so we’re ecstatic TPI is able to deliver that. Technical elements heighten the performance. With appropriate and colorful costumes by Niko Stamos, you genuinely feel you are a part of the tribe with the added elements.

Gabriel Slusser’s set design is well thought out and features the seven-piece band, led by Spencer Crosswell, on the top of an abandoned bus. The bus allows for entrances, which in turn allowed for iconic scenic moments.

Scenic painter Jonathan Willis’ colorful mural on the side of the bus is eye-catching and adds even more visual energy.

“HAIR” is rated R for containing language, sexual innuendo, nudity, strobe lighting effects, smoke effects, and of course, hippies. Yet, Steven J. Heron directs the show so tastefully, the so-called shock value becomes organic and natural.

Indeed. There is a love-in going on at Titusville Playhouse. Opening night buzzed with flower power as patrons filed in, most dressed in their favorite hippie garb, including tie-dyed shirts and flower garlands.

By the end of the night, the audience is invited on stage to dance with the actors.

It may be more than 50 years old by now, but the Age of Aquarius lives on.

SIDE O’ GRITS: “Hair” runs through Oct. 14 at Titusville Playhouse. Tickets are $21 to $29. Titusville Playhouse is at 301 Julia St., Titusville, FL. Call 321-268-1125 or visit TitusvillePlayhouse.com.