By Richard Schultz, June 18, 2015.
In 1968, Hair moved to Broadway after 144 off-Broadway performances at Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre. From there, it played for 1,750 performances on Broadway, and was revived in 1977 and in 2009, where it played a combined total of 519 more Broadway performances.
Now, nearly 50 years later, the rock musical Hair is still speaking to audiences and bridging the gaps between generations and viewpoints. And, from July 10 to Aug. 9, will be presented in the round at Desert Stages Theatre.
The plot centers around Berger, played by Colin Ross; Claude, played by Anthony J. Chavez; Shelia, played by Alana Kalbfleisch, and a group of flower children called the Tribe. But their love-filled, hippy way of life is thrown into disarray when Claude is drafted.
Hair puts rock music and the culture that went with it on stage. Musical numbers include “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “I Believe in Love,” “Hair,” “I Got Life” and “What a Piece of Work Is Man.”
Director Sam Wilkes (pictured), who is a graduate of Arizona State University and currently works for the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, said he believes that this legendary Broadway show is still relevant.
“Unfortunately, war, violence and marginalization are timeless themes, but right now we are seeing active civil engagement through protests, producing the opposite, but also timeless themes of empathy, love and peace,” Wilkes said.
Wilkes, 33, added that he experienced this time period through the stories of those who lived it and the way it influenced television, film and music.
“All the terrible things we see in the news are too complicated to process easily, but shows like Hair allow an audience to reflect back on the past and actually participate by thinking about how it applies to the current world around them,” he said.
Wilkes, who has performed with Stray Cat, Desert Stages, Phoenix and Actors theatres, recently spoke with Echo about the challenges of directing this iconic musical.
Echo: What was the greatest challenge in staging this show?
Wilkes: Tons of the show’s scenes were originally created through experimental improvisation by the cast, which included James Rado and Gerome Ragni, the writers, as Claude and Berger, respectively. These guys were on stage and adding lines and changing intentions
in the middle of the scene. They would shout to the audience and sit on their
laps and braid their hair.
I had the audacity to ask to meet with
Jim Rado while in New York recently and he agreed. He told me of a moment when he was at the end of the show and had just died as Claude when Gerome Ragni as Berger turns his drum sticks into a cross over his dead friend. It was done on a whim and changed the entire feel of the scene.
Echo: What surprised you the most in rehearsing the show?
Wilkes: I already knew that I loved the show, but I forgot how infectious this music is for people who have never heard it. We have young people learning the music and falling in love as if this music were written last year. The music of the 1960s heavily influenced the sound of Hair. If you look at the music charts in the years during the show’s run, songs from the show are hit singles for 5th Dimension and Nina Simone. It still has the same appeal and power almost 50 years later.
Echo: Originally, Act One ended with nudity. How are you handling this aspect in your production?
Wilkes: In the very first meeting regarding the show, I was told there would be no nudity since it’s something that this theatre has never done. It makes sense. It’s hard to pull off and even harder to pull off when the audience is all around you. We talked at length about it and that moment is really about freedom, vulnerability and shaking people awake. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, so you’ll have to come see to find out what we decided.
Echo: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
Wilkes: “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine” are such perfect bookends to the show. “Aquarius” seduces the audience into staying for the night and “Let the Sunshine In” sends them out, motivated to save the world. It makes for a pretty incredible experience.
Echo: Does the show address issues of interest to the LGBT community?
Wilkes: I think the civil rights themes in the show will really resonate with the LGBT community in the way it does for me as a gay man. It’s wild to see the way sexuality was talked about in 1968. One of the show’s queer characters, Woof, played by Nathaniel Tenenbaum, has zero time for labels. He’s “outed” by another character, talks about making love to Mick Jagger and immediately says, “I’m not a homosexual or anything, but...” It’s such a playful and different way to talk about it. It was a magical time in the sexual revolution when sex was allowed to have a wonder about it before it became deadly to so many.
July 10-Aug. 9
Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre
4720 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Tickets: $25 | 480-483-1664