Forty-four years after it opened on Broadway, Hair still feels strangely modern in Cultural Arts Playhouse's vibrant production, which is playing through August 5 in its Plainview location.
Bare bellies, bare feet, long tresses, big pants, and small shirts happily coexist on stage, confidently slithering against one another and experimenting with various drugs, subscribing to the same truth: happiness. The sultry and powerful opening of Hair's anthem "Aquarius" – "harmony and understanding; sympathy and trust abounding" – sung by Taneisha Corbin invites audiences into the welcoming arms of this rock musical, preaching not only political and sexual freedoms but peace. In perhaps one of the most impressive opening moments seen in Long Island theatre in the last year, Corbin is confident and electric; she sets the bar high for the remainder of the performance and challenges the cast, a.k.a. "the tribe", to come together in an explosive harmony.
This musical (lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot), which continues to influence the work making its way to Broadway even today, focuses on Claude, a kid from Queens, who remains conflicted about burning his draft card or appeasing his parents by joining the war in Vietnam; Berger, stripped of all inhibitions, whose main goal in life revolves around smoking and being the center of attention; and Sheila, torn between these two boys and her own beliefs. Despite the presence of peer pressure, the tribe rejoices in the ease in which they all coexist – men, women, black, white, yellow, red. They dance (thanks to some great choreography by Bruce Grossman with assistance by Eliana K-Lichtman, who also starred in the show), they meditate, they smoke (very realistically too, according to one audience member), and they humor conservative tourists.
Joseph Minasi as Claude succeeds in creating a character who is not only lost due to his own confusion but easily falls into the crowd until he almost disappears. Berger is his polar opposite. Dancing on chairs, shaking his tush in the face of the audience, Jesse Pimpinella has an eye for the ladies, can be positively bold but allows just the right amount of vulnerability to emerge when the moment calls for it. As Sheila, Ashley Nicastro proves to be a leader among the tribe ("Ain't Got No") and is surprisingly fulfilled by the ranging personalities of Claude and Berger.
Bruce Grossman has skillfully directed a fresh-faced cast of varying talents, who seamlessly interact with one another and alternate between taking center stage and blending back into the group. While the core theme of Hair remains consistent through the musical, the collage feel of the production as different members of the tribe each have their moment is part of its strength – the jukebox collaboration of Jared Grossman, Phil Rosenberg, James Walsh, Alex Resnick in "Electric Blues", Ashley Nicastro's "Easy to be Hard", Rachel Karmel sweetly singing of lost love in "Frank Mills", and Kyle Petty in a soulful and fun crooning of "Colored Spade".
It's true that, at times, audiences could be watching a musical about the present day: a group of teenagers wishing to spread happiness all over the world, disagreeing with their parents and the government, and wanting to have the choice to be themselves and steer their own path. Cultural Arts Playhouse's production of Hair provides a glimpse of the past messily mixing with the truths of the current world. Where there is sadness, there is also hope and excitement and love. On stage, this cast is clearly feeling all of these emotions, owning them, and doing whatever they can to connect with their audience and allow them to feel like a part of it too.
For information on tickets and the show schedule, please visit Cultural Arts Playhouse on Facebook or their website. Before HAIR, the group gave a sneak peek of their next Roslyn production, NEXT TO NORMAL. After hearing just two songs, I'm positive N2N will be quite the theater experience.
Photos by Diane Marmann