This “Hair” is cleaner than it should be

This “Hair” is cleaner than it should be

In Hair, we meet the Tribe – a group of hippies who spend time together protesting the Vietnam War, doing drugs and generally enjoying each other and the counterculture movement. Berger (Brandon Contreras), charismatic and sometimes volatile, is the leader of their loosely knit band; he lives with his girlfriend Sheila (Kayla Foster), a politically active college student, and Claude (Andrew Cekala), his best friend, who’s finally learning to let loose after an upbringing in a conservative family. When Claude gets drafted, he has to decide whether to avoid service, like his compatriots, or do his patriotic duty, as his family members are urging him to.

Jason Simms’ scenic design is simple, but effective: a large open space with a beautiful wood floor and large windows in the background – this cast needs plenty of room and the set gives them that freedom. Director Daisy Walker also takes full advantage of the space, having the Tribe use the aisles and platforms and staircases onstage – it’s a fun, immersive effect. Shane E. Ballard’s costume design is beautiful – colorful, light, layered – but it’s all far too sterile. These are young adults who mainly live on the streets, yet they haven’t got a single tear in their outfits or any dirt, grease or grime on their clothing. Even their feet and shoes are pristine. These are gorgeous hippy Halloween costumes, not lived-in clothing. It’s a small thing, but in a way a sign of a larger problem with the show – this is a seriously sanitized version of Hair. Even the famous nude scene is done in such darkness you can’t see anything but silhouettes – and that’s obviously not something the characters would have cared about. Who is that for, then – the actors or the audience? If it’s the actors, cut the nude scene completely (I’ve seen it done both ways and it really takes nothing away if removed); if it’s the audience, trust that they can handle a minute or two of naked bodies.

Contreras’s Berger is, along this vein, a clean-cut Berger facsimile; there’s nothing charismatic about him that would draw the Tribe in or keep Sheila and Claude by his side. Even his hair seems styled and well-groomed. Cekala is a solid Claude, and his final scene tugs on the heartstrings; Foster has a lovely voice and all the backbone and more needed for Sheila. Latoya Edwards is a fierce, fabulous and fiery Dionne and her voice filled the entire space; Livvy Marcus’s Jeanie added the sweet sentimentality needed and Will Porter, as Woof, was goofy, winsome and fun to watch. The Tribe sounds wonderful together, and hearing the songs is always a treat – I’m a huge fan of this musical – and Lisa Shriver’s choreography is beautiful, free and loose.

This isn’t the Hair you grew up with. It’s squeaky-clean and more fun than it should be, considering the dark undertone that runs through the show. It’s beautiful, and it sounds wonderful, but without that grittiness, it’s lacking that final punch to push it forward into greatness.

“Hair;” Berkshire Theatre Group, 6 East St., Stockbridge, MA; through August 11; $90-$45; Run time: 1 hour and 55 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 413-997-4444;


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