The journey makes you smile, laugh, cringe, and cry. But throughout it all, the current production of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical at Center Stage Theater leaves you feeling, which ultimately is its best quality. Forty-three years after its original debut and just one after receiving a 2009 Tony Award for best revival, Hair takes the audience through one of the most tumultuous times of American history with the most pleasant vibrations.
It is a representation of a generation by that generation in which drugs, sexuality, racism, free love, and pacifism all meet on a carpet-covered stage. The musical weaves the themes together through the Tribe, a group of hippies, as they deal with the pressures of their era, and it does so in a manner that transcends generational bounds.
The setting is the late 1960s, and although the Tribe as a unit gives the piece its core strength, the plot centers on Claude (Ethan Hartsell), a young man trying to balance his loyalty to his country with his feelings for his family and, above all, his tribe.
The other members of this tribe embody the different pressures and difficulties during the watershed period. Sheila (Lauren Kivowitz) plays a charismatic bona fide protester and NYU student. Berger (Adam Quinney) is a lost soul and a free spirit all at once. Hud (Mike Payne) and Dionne (Michelle Williams) represent the strength of African-American men and women of the time.
These characters shed light on tough issues through songs that reveal the seriousness and absurdity of the time. Performing songs with titles like “Hashish,” “Sodomy,” “Colored Spade,” “I Got Life,” and many others, the Tribe renders such difficult subjects accessible to the audience. At times, Hair may shock with unexpected nonsexual nudity and sexual references, but this is all done with class.
Codirector Kellen Vanetti said that most members of the company are Santa Barbara and Goleta residents. He described the casting process as vitally significant to the success of the play, saying that, “for casting, we wanted to cast the Tribe, not individuals. So during callbacks, we workshopped people together.” The oneness of the Tribe gives the piece a strength that can only be witnessed firsthand. Its message is brilliant, and the highly energetic and interactive cast makes the show fun.