'Hair' returns to its roots

2014-04-04T00:45:00Z 'Hair' returns to its rootsBy JACI WEBB jwebb@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

More revolutionary, less Day Glo.

When the revamped production of the rock musical “Hair” rolls into town this weekend for a Saturday performance at the Alberta Bair Theater, expect more raw energy from the tribe and less fluff.

When producer-director Corey Ross set out to build a revival of “Hair,” he went to one of the original co-creators of the 1967 Broadway show, James Rado, who wrote the book the production is based on.

Knowing Rado is in his 80s, Ross figured it would be a short visit. But Ross wanted to run some changes by Rado, so they met in a Manhattan coffee shop.

“Instead of an hourlong meeting, he pulled out this large yellow bag of paper scraps with notes and photographs — all this material that led to the creation of ‘Hair,’” Ross said in a phone interview. “It was amazing and it was much longer than an hour. I went back to New York over a dozen more times. We went over the script line by line.”

The conversations they shared focused on the heart of the show, the desperation of men who feared going off to war against their will and the sexual and social revolution that was going on around them.

“It wasn’t just about fashion, the tie dye and the afros,” Ross said. “It was a political movement. They were trying to change a country they didn’t believe in. They were terrified of being shipped off or being in a country where they didn’t fit in.”

The show will still feature the hit songs from the original production, including “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In, “Good Morning Starshine” and “Easy to be Hard.” And the new production restores two songs, “Dead End” from the original production and another that was dropped during rehearsals. “Dead End,” is sung by an African American character who feels marginalized in American society.

“It is a gritty, edgier version of ‘Hair,’ depicting young people desperate to have their voices heard,” Ross said.

Rado complimented the show for returning to its origins.

“This new ‘Hair’ script is well-oiled and finely calibrated with subtle new twists of plot and character,” Rado said.

Ross’s Starvox Entertainment and the Classical Theatre Project team up on the new tour. Ross recently produced a staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” and remounted “Evil Dead — The Musical” to record-breaking sales at the Randolph Theatre in Toronto, Canada.

To cast “Hair,” Ross traveled across North America seeking actors who could sing and play an instrument so that they were the band.

“We held auditions in three cities and cast as wide a net as we possibly could. We found talented, young, unheard performers who are getting some incomparable stage time. There are performers out of rock, gospel and the musical theater world,” Ross said.

There is no question that the show was written about certain circumstances surrounding the Vietnam War, and that it is still relevant today because the emotional states of the young are still similar. As proof that the show is still relevant, Ross said at some venues, people have walked out. The show is provocative and it goes against American ideals because it is pro-drug, pro-sex, anti-military, anti-corporate and anti-government, Ross said.

Some theaters, like the ABT, have opted out of the scene where there is full frontal nudity. That scene depicts what happened at a real-life be-in in New York in the 1960s where two men took their clothes off and the police charged into the crowd to arrest them. The other protesters intervened and began chanting, “We love cops,” while the two naked men disappeared into the crowd.

“It was an attempt to de-escalate that situation. It was a moment of the protesters saying, ‘Don’t hurt me, I’m a human being,’ ” Ross said. “The moment is an intriguing point in the story. It’s about confusion and angst. It’s an abstract moment of solidarity.”

Ross said his favorite moment of the show is where the two male leads both grab an electric guitar and start of the title song, “Hair,” in a blazing rock concert moment.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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