By Jim Carnes
Music Circus closes one of its strongest seasons in years with an outstanding production of Hair, the 1968 “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” as it was subtitled.
The play is starshine and moon glow amid dark clouds of hate, fear and violence as its tribe struggles to “Let the Sunshine In.” The “tribe” is a politically active group of counter culture young people (“hippies,” they were called) protesting the Vienam War by resisting – and encouraging others to resist – the draft. At the center of the tribe are roommates Claude (Oliver Thornton), Berger (Peter Saide) and Sheila (Laura D’Andre), who are joined in the communal aspects of their lives and loves by many friends, male and female, black and white. It is a caring congregation that personifies what the “Age of Aquarius” was all about.
In a series of short songs, individual members of the tribe are introduced and given personality. There’s free-spirited Berger (he drops his pants to reveal a fringed loincloth shortly into the scene), a “psychedelic teddy bear” who is looking for his “16-year-old virgin” (“Donna”). Sheila is a New York University student and idealistic political activist (“I Believe in Love”), while Claude is a conflicted and fearful fellow trying desperately to escape his life. He wants to be someone else from somewhere else (“Manchester, England”), but the tribe knows he’s from Flushing, Queens.
Composer Galt MacDermot and book and lyricists Gerome Ragni and James Rado use Claude’s dilemma to advance the plot. Can he bring himself to resist conscription and burn his draft card, as his friends have, or will he compromise his pacifistic principles and give in to his parents’ pressures to serve in Vietnam. A psychedelic nightmare gives way to the reality of war and the tribe’s singular loss reflects the multitudes of young lives sacrificed to the war machine.
Director Glenn Casale emphasizes the dark part of American history during the late 1960s to underscore the hope and integrity of a generation determined to leave a better world (despite free love, drugs and long hair.
It is surprising how many fine songs cane out of this ground-breaking musical: “Aquarius,” sure, but also “What a Piece of Work Is Man,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” and “Easy To Be Hard.”
Among songs that stand out in this production are “Colored Spade” (sung by Sacramentan Omari Tau, as Hud), “Aquarius” (performed by another Sacramentan, Danielle Mone Truitt), and “Where Do I Go” (sung by Thornton, closing Act One) and “Electric Blues” (by tribe members Adam Lendermon, who has done exemplary work in several of this season’s shows; Chanel Edwards-Frederick; Devon Hadsell and Steven Strafford).
Hair continues through Sunday, with performances at 7:30 each evening and at 2:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday. Tickets are $40-$83, available by phone at (916) 557-1999, online at Tickets.com, or in person at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H Street, Sacramento.