In the middle of Act II of Hair, the "American Tribal Love-Rock Musical," a thought pops into my head: "This is what getting high must feel like." What spawned this revelation? Sitting there, I had only a vague notion of the storyline. In spite of this, I was more than happy to go where the musical was taking me, which was a psychedelic cornucopia of lights, music, dancing, and all manner of revelry that characterize human beings as social animals.
Presented currently at the Chance Theater in Anaheim, Hair is one of those rare pieces where a lack of coherent storyline is not only deliberate, it is revered. Yet what draws you in is not so much the characters, though they are all strangely three-dimensional despite the fact that the musical never gives too much emphasis on their backgrounds.
The story is about a tribe of long-haired, politically active hippies living in New York City in 1968. The focus is particularly on Berger, Sheila, and Claude. You can call it a love triangle but it's more of a menage-a-trois in the purest sense of the term. Unfortunately, Claude gets drafted to Vietnam and cannot decide if he wants to serve his country or obey his pacifism. That's the central story, amid all the asides about hippie doctrines and societal commentaries.
Stand-out performances include Armando Gutierrez, who gives Berger a ferocious edge, and Emily Clark, who is eccentric yet beautifully fragile as Jeanie. Amber J. Snead also gives a stunning rendition of "Age of Aquarius." Yet it is the entire cast which are to be commended for keeping up an energetic performance for 2.5 hours through all of the interconnecting dance numbers.
The musical naturally lends itself to the intimate setting of the Chance Theater. It allows the actors to get close and to naturally pull the entire house into the tribe so that the night is something that everyone is sharing, cast, crew, and audience alike.
Yet Hair is not really about the individuals within it as it is about the ideas. It does not follow musical conventions such as a clear and linear storyline and hummable tunes. Instead, the songs are dissonant at times, a bit random at others, and there are no kick-lines.
Yet the messages behind them are what makes the musical work today and still be successful on and off-Broadway--besides songs such as "Age of Aquarius" and "Good Morning Starshine" that have seeped into pop culture. The musical contains criticisms of American society; from pollution, in the darkly hilarious "Air" to war. As one character curtly puts it, "The draft is white people sending black people to make war on the yellow people to defend the land they stole from the red people."
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With a note on today's situation, it is also a criticism of society, one which puts more emphasis on material gain than the value of human life. Above all that, the musical celebrates humanity and all its beauties and follies. Coupled with the performances from the entire cast, Hair is one of the most memorable and electrifying musical productions in Orange County this year.
Just a slight warning, this is an adult musical with some nudity, language, and drug use so leave the kids at home.
HAIR AT CHANCE THEATER, 5552 E. LA PALMA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 777-3033. http://www.chancetheater.com/ FRIDAYS AT 8:00 P.M., SATURDAYS AT 3:00 P.M. AND 8:00 P.M., SUNDAYS AT 2:00 PM. AND 7:00 P.M. THROUGH AUG. 16.
[Edited at 2:40 P.M., the closing date for "Hair" is August 16, not the 31st as previously written]