Matt DeAngelis, Kyle Harris (front), Lauren Lebowitz, and the company, in Hair. Photos © Tim Fuller.
Arizona Theatre Company has announced an additional week of performances for their current production of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, and that's good news for Valley audiences, because this show is bumpin'.When you enter the Herberger's mainstage and see a set based on multiple levels of metal scaffolding, you might think Rent. Or Godspell. But Hair did it first, opening on Broadway in April 1968 (between Martin's assassination and Bobby's), creating the iconography of love-and-peace, antimaterialistic urban squatting.
Although every element of this production is top-notch, it's the radiant aliveness of the cast in their psychedelic hippie garb (designed by Kish Finnegan) that kept me riveted every second. The performers may not all be genuinely young (in particular, Joey Calveri as Berger, who's supposed to have just been kicked out of high school, sports an unfortunately receding hairline), but they're all as fit and frisky as any rosy-cheeked, batik-wrapped, wheat-grass-chugging mystic you've ever seen, and they explode across the stage like Roman candles on acid.
They glow, not with traditional musical-theater perkiness, but with the powerful yet fragile idealism that possesses their generation in the face of fear, cruelty, and insanity. They revel in the new maturity of their bodies, minds, and voices. And they make it seem completely effortless, when in fact they are working their butts off: Nothing makes you feel over 20 like doing eight shows a week barefoot in a wig.
Here's something weird, though: In the musical number "Don't Put It Down," in which three male cast members are briefly wrapped in an American flag, which they then carefully fold, it's not a real American flag. (You can see Calveri at left in the amazing simulation.) I've seen much worse things happen to real flags on stage. It's supposed to be a real flag.
The entire plot of the show is that one of the young men gets drafted and has to decide what to do. "Don't Put It Down" illustrates the divided loyalties of the Tribe (the close-knit group of bohemian activists). Society judges them as unpatriotic and subversive when in reality they embrace the core values of the nation's founders. With Fakey McFakerflag, the number lost much of its meaning, and I was taken out of the intense experience I'd been immersed in.
Hair was banned from the Civic Auditorium in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1971 because it violated Georgia's flag desecration statute at the time. This is not 1971 or Georgia, so I'm baffled. The Phoenix audience that's cheering and whooping for nudity, profanity, and drug use in this show should be able to look at a piece of cloth. Yeah, yeah, we're at war. We were at war 40 years ago, too.
Has it really been 40 years since Hair took the arts scene by storm? Has it been only 40 years? We ask ourselves each question, both questions; the time warps minute by minute. "Where is today's Hair?" asked my companion. "Where are the protesters?"
I wanted to say, "Bitch, you're only 41," but I held my tongue and, by the time it was all over and we'd danced, drained, on the stage, she said, "This is about what's happening now. It's the same." And that was the other thing I'd wanted to tell her.
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical runs through Sunday, January 25, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street. Tickets are $35 to $73; order here or call 602-256-6995.