Friday, July 17, 2015

theatre review - HAIR - Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre - July 12, 2015

the cast of Hair
photo: Heather Butcher
Click here for more information on this production that runs through August 9th.

"The rock musical Hair exploded into a cultural phenomenon in the late 1960s. The dozens of varied rock tunes set among a story of free love, drugs, and teenagers who are protesting the Vietnam War hit a nerve and the show went on to a healthy run on Broadway, in London, and around the world. While the musical is a moving piece of theatre, the story itself is slight and somewhat confusing. Desert Stages Theatre's production of this musical classic is solid and, with clear direction and an expert cast, fairly successful in offsetting some of the show's shortcomings. DST also fortunately doesn't try to update the time period to make it more relevant, keeping it firmly rooted in the turbulent Vietnam era of the late 1960s....Hair focuses steadily on a tribe of hippies and the journey of a young man named Claude. It is mainly a series of musical vignettes featuring songs that introduce the characters, with only minimal dialogue to give a few plot points to connect the dots between the relationships the leads share. But even with the spare book, the main plot is fairly easy to follow: Claude is caught up between the pull of his uptight parents, who want to send him off to the army, as they think it will make a man out of him, and the three-way relationship he shares with the crazy, radical Berger, the leader of the "Tribe," and the highly political Sheila. Torn between his allegiance and love for the Tribe and doing what his parents want, Claude makes a decision that ultimately sets his unfortunate future in motion.... the virtually non-stop, memorable music washing over you and the enthusiasm of the Desert Stages cast help to offset the show's several shortfalls in terms of plot and character development....Director Samuel E. Wilkes has found an energetic troupe of actors to bring the tribe to vibrant life, full of passion and love but also not afraid to portray the harsh realities of the period. Anthony Chavez brings a heightened, yet almost peaceful, sensitivity to Claude...Colin Ross is full of life as the crazy and wildly charismatic Berger...Alanna Kalbfleisch adeptly portrays Sheila, the radical protestor who struggles with the love she has for both of these men....Her warm vocals make "Easy To Be Hard" both beautiful and heartfelt....There isn't a vocal misstep among the ensemble members of the free spirited Tribe. ..Wilkes' exuberant direction makes excellent use of DST's in the round staging, providing a heightened sense of intimacy in the small space without having the actors get directly in the faces of the audience. Wilkes has not only honed meaningful performances from his cast but creatively stages the songs and scenes in neverending and always changing movement. ...Nicole L. Olson's choreography is period centric yet still feels fresh. Mark 4man's expert musical direction includes an abundance of memorable moments...Tamara Treat's costumes are a non-stop parade of flower power, tie died designs that combine expertly with Jacob Hamilton's period perfect hair and make-up designs. Matt Stetler's beautiful lighting design include many highlights, especially the non-stop light show during "Three Five Zero Zero."...Almost fifty years after it first premiered, Hair could be perceived today as just a nostalgic period piece, yet DST's passionate production proves that the journey of Claude and the members of the Tribe still resonates today. While Hair's book may be slightly confusing, and DST's production can't solve every problem with the show, it still results in a moving and uplifting piece of theatre. Chock full of memorable tunes and vibrant performances, DST's production is also beautifully directed with moving, impressive performances."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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