LTC's production of 'Hair' is perfect end to Aquarius season
I recently had the experience of getting to go and see The Livingston Theatre Company’s production of "Hair." I’ve enjoyed a couple of productions from the LTC over the years, and me enjoying the production of "Hair" was no different. It was plenty different in and of itself.
The musical’s plot, if you can even call it that, is a series of loosely threaded vignettes all surrounding the "tribe," a group of young hippies in the 60s. The group was complete with all the relationship drama and drug usage you’d immediately picture when trying to conjure an image of that group.
It deals with heavy themes, including domestic violence, drug abuse, race, war and all of what the hippies in the center of the music stood for with forms of love, peace and liberation. The LTC’s production carries a modern thread (or strand) as well, bringing "Hair" more into the present than it already does by virtue of its own existence.
When characters held up protest signs on stage, some displayed calls to defend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Black Lives Matter. The show also opened with content warnings and a land acknowledgment, including a nod to the hippie movement and the play’s harmful stereotypes about Indigenous people.
The show was an excellent way to emphasize the cyclical nature of history and emphasize that the work to promote peace, anti-violence and inequality is not over. And least of all, was it championed by the sometimes charming and sometimes insufferable Tribe that "Hair" follows.
"Hair" is a messy but gripping musical, sometimes difficult to follow and sometimes perfectly clear. At times laugh out loud funny, and at others so tense you could hear a pin drop. It’s imperfect but iconic, and it feels unfair to hold LTC accountable for potential issues within the shows it chooses to put on.
The performances of the cast of "Hair" were more than enough to elevate it beyond its own significance to cultural conversations and instead make it something worth watching, even just for the fun of it.
Though the character of Dionne was slightly less prominent as the show went on, the first performance to truly grip me was, in fact, that of Sydney Forrester Wilson, a Mason Gross School of the Arts junior. "Aquarius" was one of my favorite songs of the whole production, in large part due to Wilson’s performance.
In terms of leading roles, Daphne Sardis, also a Mason Gross junior, took center stage as Claude, the most principal character of "Hair." Sardis flawlessly portrayed the character's internal struggle and turmoil and this made everything from Claude's relationship dramatics to his drug-induced hallucinations believable and impactful, even as the show can sometimes lose itself in its performance.
Also enjoyable of the show's leads are adept performances from Steven Franklin, also a Mason Gross senior, as Berger, and Reagan White, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, as Sheila. They both got a chance to showcase their theatrical prowess as they navigate the complicated relationship between the two characters, including a fight scene that’s pretty hard to watch — but for all the right reasons.
"Hair" isn’t perfect. While the performances, the costuming, the props and the set design were all effective at worst and excellent at best, the sound quality of the show was lacking. Lucky enough to forget my glasses before I left, I parked myself just three rows back toward the left side of the stage. Still, it was impossible to hear dialogue and singing at multiple points in the show.
The orchestra was incredibly loud compared to the microphones and the actors that wore them. By eavesdropping on the girls in front of me at intermission who also lamented their struggle to make out some of the words, I concluded this was an actual issue instead of just a me problem. This made the show, already complex in and of itself, tedious to follow.
Aside from a lack of technical adeptness, "Hair" was a more than successful production and performance. Even on Super Bowl Sunday, with an evening full of junk food and a Rihanna half-time show ahead of me, I was able to sit rapt for their performance and allow myself to be taken back to the 60s.