By Michele Markarian
“Hair” – Book and Lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. Music by Galt MacDermont. Directed by Joey C. Pelletier. Presented by Heart and Dagger Productions at Club Café, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston, through October 20.
I was a little kid when my parents bought the album of the original Broadway cast of “Hair”, after they’d gone to New York to see it. I thought the music was contagious and would sing along to the soundtrack. My naïve mother didn’t know the meaning of the words in “Sodomy” any more than I did, so the singing worked out nicely. Years later, I found a book in our local library by original cast member Lorrie Davis, called “Letting Down My Hair: Two Years With the Love Rock Tribe–From Dawning to Downing of Aquarius”. Fans of “Hair”, this book is not to be missed! ($30 used on Amazon.) I read and reread it cover to cover until my mother, who had wised up by then, got her hands on it and declared it “filthy”. Years later, as a young theater reviewer in college, I volunteered to see a Brown University production of “Hair”. The show itself was excellent, but I was disappointed to experience it as a piece of history, rather than something relevant to the times.
It has been fifty years since “Hair” was first produced Off-Broadway, and what better way to celebrate than to see Heart and Dagger’s production, currently playing at Club Café? The songs are as catchy as ever – seriously, I had to zip it more than once, as the urge to sing along overcame me – and director Joey Pelletier brings the book into the 21st century with video images serving as appropriate commentary to the score. Smokestacks, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and the cast of “Sister Wives” are among the slides that remind us that elements of “Hair” still have meaning in today’s crazy world.
“Hair” is set in 1960s New York, during the Vietnam era. The conservative parents of one of the protagonists, Claude (James Sims), decide the Army might straighten him up from his hippie lifestyle, and register him for the draft. Claude’s friends, known as the Tribe, are all vehemently against the war, and urge him to burn his draft card, something Claude struggles with. The tribe rebels throughout, experimenting with drugs, sexuality, and activism.
“Hair’s” strength is in the music – if you’ve ever tried to read the book, you’d probably agree with me – and Heart and Dagger’s strength is in the group numbers, where harmonies and dynamics are lovely to listen to. There are some terrific vocalists in the cast, led by Sims, whose musicianship is first class – not only does he play several instruments, but he serves as the show’s music director. His voice has a rare kind of purity that’s suited to many musical styles. Tamani Jayasinghe is effective and touching as Sheila – her “Easy to be Hard” is raw emotion, while “Good Morning Starshine” is buoyant. Jane Ko has presence and vocal power as Daisy. Brad Reinking is very funny as Woof, and belts out a solid version of “Sodomy”; Aaron Drill’s Margaret Mead is adorable. The band, decked out in groovy outfits, is onstage throughout the show, with lead guitarist Doug Delaney rocking out the vocals on “Electric Blues”.
The eclectic Club Café is the perfect venue for “Hair”, which, while shocking its audiences fifty years ago, is a reminder of how we can’t let the progress we’ve made as a society backslide. Heart and Dagger brings the point home with a multicultural, gender-bending cast and, with love and good intentions, flowers. Peace out. For more info, go to: http://calendar.artsboston.org/event/hair-2/